The state of Florida has not done an adequate job in testing for cases of COVID-19 and in tracing the people with whom COVID-19 patients had contact, according to Congresswoman Kathy Castor.
Castor, D-Tampa, said during a Monday morning Zoom call with news reporters that testing has been an afterthought, although Congress has sent billions of dollars to Florida through the CARES Act and other emergency aid packages to implement a widespread and rapid testing regimen.
A request for comment from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office from the St. Pete Catalyst was pending return, but on Saturday, speaking in Bradenton, DeSantis said the state has expanded testing.
As of Saturday, DeSantis said Florida had tested 2.4 million people since the pandemic began — one of every nine people in Florida.
It’s still tough to get a test in Florida, said Castor, who offered a personal example.
“A few weeks ago I felt like I had a sore throat. I called the county to try to get a test scheduled. I was cut off mid-call. I tried one of our local drugstores who never could schedule that test,” Castor said.
Her scratchy throat eventually went away and she believes it was due to allergies. She now has an appointment for a test in August.
Testing is just one part of Castor’s concerns about the seriousness of the current situation.
“I’ve been talking with local hospital leaders and health system leaders and here’s what they are telling me. They are really being squeezed right now. They have more patients in their hospitals diagnosed with COVID than ever before. There are serious staffing shortages, because many of our fantastic nurses and health workers who have been on the front lines since March and have been at this for many months have contracted COVID and they now have to request nursing assistance from outside the community,” Castor said.
“There’s also a shortage in testing supplies … They are suffering from a lack of the re-agents especially. The labs are being squeezed and they’re going to have to do some creative things. We all know that testing is not as effective if it takes five, seven, 10 days to get results back but that’s what’s happening now. It’s very difficult to get the test results back so you don’t know. Do you need to quarantine? Do you need to contact trace?”
Castor also said public health messaging around masks and social distancing has not been consistent, and she said that comes “from the very top” — from President Trump and from DeSantis.
“There was not consistent follow-through based upon the guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and the state of Florida’s own guidelines,” Castor said. “There was a false sense of security when the death rate went down a little bit in May, but if we want to get to a point where we can make sure businesses can reopen safely and kids can go back to school safely, the state of Florida and President Trump have to be more focused on using the resources Congress has provided.”
The Catalyst asked Castor how to take politics out of what has become a political issue over wearing masks.
“When you look at who the average person on the street listens to, it’s our scientists and our public health experts. They should be elevated, they should be listened to … They are very concerned,” Castor said.
She said she hopes it’s not too late to get more testing in place.
“These things are not mutually exclusive. You can open schools, you can open businesses but you’ve got to have the public health infrastructure in place to make sure it’s being done safely and they just haven’t done that here in the state of Florida,” Castor said.
Florida reported nearly 15,300 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, the highest number of new cases in a single day by any state since the coronavirus pandemic began. There has been a total of 282,435 cases in Florida since the pandemic began, and 4,277 deaths.
In Pinellas County, there have been 11,442 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the state began reporting cases by county in early March, an increase of 598 cases between Sunday and Monday. There have been 236 deaths in Pinellas, including seven new deaths reported on Monday.
Other local political leaders also spoke out on COVID-19 Monday and over the weekend.
The risks in re-opening schools are not insignificant, but the costs of not doing so are extraordinary.
We are going to have to be creative & flexible & do the best we can to mitigate risk.
But at some point this fall kids need to be back in school. pic.twitter.com/JH6iu5WLGb
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) July 13, 2020
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) July 13, 2020
Meeting nurses and first responders at @MahaffeyTheater drive thru testing site in St. Pete. These healthcare heroes came from all over the Southeast to help save lives in Pinellas. Let’s do our part by masking up and social distancing to help flatten the curve! pic.twitter.com/MYj62mFEwM
— Congressman Charlie Crist (@RepCharlieCrist) July 11, 2020
According to the @TB_Times, St. Pete is the only city in TB to fine a business for violation of mask mandate, and we’ve done it more than 100 times. This is not how our Codes/@StPetePD/ @StPeteFR want to spend the their time, but we’ll keep doing it until the COVID % goes down.
— Rick Kriseman (@Kriseman) July 12, 2020