Feds boost testing aid as coronavirus cases climb

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday said the federal government will send “tens of thousands” of novel coronavirus testing kits to the state and asked people not to purchase a type of tight-fitting mask to protect themselves from the contagion.

DeSantis, speaking to reporters during an appearance in Gadsden County, also announced that five more people have tested positive for the coronavirus, a contagious disease known as COVID-19. That brought to nine the number of Florida-related coronavirus cases, a total that includes one non-Florida resident who is being detained in the state.

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One of the new cases involves a 72-year-old Santa Rosa County man with underlying medical conditions who had recently traveled abroad. DeSantis said the Florida Department of Health is conducting an investigation but that the man is “not in shape to fully answer all the questions.”

The other four new cases, meanwhile, involve residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 but aren’t in the state. They won’t be allowed back into Florida until they test negative, DeSantis told reporters.

“So we don’t anticipate that having any impact on the people actually living in Florida,” the governor said. 

DeSantis previously had announced that a Florida resident had been detained in Washington state after traveling back from Asia.  


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratory test kit for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus. [Photo credit: CDC]

That means five of the nine cases involve Florida residents who are not in the state. Three cases involve Florida residents who are in the state and one case involves the non-Floridian who is being detained, according to the Department of Health website.

The state also is trying to quickly gear up to test people for the virus. DeSantis said the federal government is sending testing kits to Florida. The final destinations will be hospitals and doctors’ offices, as the state tries to meet an edict from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to allow anyone who a doctor suspects has the virus to be tested.

“We don’t have them yet, we’d like to get them, obviously, as soon as possible,” DeSantis said. “We certainly believe that would help things. Especially if we’re in a situation where we have a surge of people showing up with symptoms. Being able to do that local testing would make a big, big difference.”

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DeSantis also asked people to refrain from purchasing what are known as N95 masks, a type of tight-fitting mask, as a precautionary measure to prevent COVID-19 infection. 

“For just the average person going to Amazon and buying a mask, that is not what you need to be doing. The CDC has been very clear on that. In fact, if you put the mask on, you are more likely to be fiddling around your face and actually you may be more likely to transmit the virus if you are in contact with it,” DeSantis said. “Those really need to be used for health-care professionals that are treating patients.”

COVID-19 was first reported in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 31, and has spread to dozens of countries, with cases popping up in various U.S. states. 

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The Florida Department of Health has stockpiled about 150,000 masks, DeSantis said. Vice President Mike Pence was expected to meet Thursday with 3M, a company that manufactures the masks. 

--- News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report