Florida Boosts COVID-19 Testing, Sending New-Case Rate To A Record Low

May 5, 2020

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says his state has hit a new record low in the rate of positive test results for COVID-19, as only around 2.5% of nearly 24,000 tests confirmed an infection on Monday. The test results were the most Florida has received in a single day.

The governor celebrated the good news, which emerged one day after Florida relaxed shutdown restrictions on restaurants and retail stores in much of the state.

"We got 23,884 test results," DeSantis said at a midday briefing Tuesday. "Out of that massive batch, it only yielded 589 new Florida cases."

"If you look at the percent positive, which is something we track very closely, yesterday's test results have got to be the lowest percent positive since we've been doing any type of major testing," DeSantis said.

The positive news about test results came after Florida reported two notable rises in the day-to-day number of new cases. On Friday, the state's "weeklong trend of daily totals under 1,000 was broken," as member station WLRN reports from Miami. That daily figure fell over the weekend, but on Monday, the state confirmed 819 new coronavirus cases.

The governor said he doesn't think Florida has seen positive test results for new cases higher than 6% in around two weeks. While the state has indeed seen a distinct downward trend over the past two weeks, the Florida Department of Health recorded a new-case rate of 6.18% on April 23; it also hit 5.99% last Monday.

It's been much longer, DeSantis said, since Florida saw a new-case rate higher than 7%.

"I think that that's a good trend," the governor said. "But part of that is because we have worked so hard to expand testing."

Florida will also add antibody tests to the state's drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites this week, the governor said. And he said the state should consider retaining a special law that has allowed restaurants to include alcohol in their delivery and takeout orders.

Florida currently has a total of more than 37,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases. More than 6,000 people have been hospitalized during the pandemic, and 1,471 people have died, the state says.

DeSantis delivered his briefing outdoors, at a new drive-thru diagnostics site in Sarasota County. It is the 12th such state-supported facility, he said, adding that drive-thru sites have accounted for some 109,000 tests. The state plans to announce a mobile testing lab this week, using an RV to deploy rapid testing, with results ready in around 45 minutes.

Florida's shelter-in-place order expired last Thursday, but DeSantis has asked residents to continue to social distancing, and for medically vulnerable people to stay home as much as they can.

Testing capacity for COVID-19 is expected play a vital role in Florida's attempts to restart its economy and reopen businesses, after enduring weeks of restrictions due to the pandemic.

"The fact of the matter is, Florida has met all the gating criteria to be into Phase One," DeSantis said.

Areas such as the state's west coast are ready to reopen first, the governor said, but highly populated southeastern counties such as Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach are on a slower timetable.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.