As the omicron variant continues to spread throughout Florida and the country, the state’s emergency management director admitted Thursday that Florida allowed hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 rapid test kits to expire, citing a lack of demand for them.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has accused Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Health of stockpiling tests amid hours-long lines at testing sites in some parts of the state.
During a news conference in West Palm Beach, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said the state did have a warehouse full of COVID-19 rapid test kits that have since expired.
“We had between 800,000 and 1 million test kits — Abbott rapid test kits — in our warehouse that did expire,” Guthrie said. “We tried to give them out prior to that, but there was not a demand for it.”
Guthrie’s remarks confirm what Fried, the lone Democrat in the Florida Cabinet who is challenging DeSantis for governor, has alleged since Christmastime.
Fried boasted of the governor’s admission in a Twitter post.
“Just like I told you,” she wrote.
At Ron DeSantis’ press conference, he just admitted that they have a stockpile of “800,000 to a million” expired COVID-19 tests they never sent out. They expired (after being extended) between 12/26-30/21).
Just like I told you.
— Nikki Fried (@NikkiFried) January 6, 2022
Guthrie said the tests expired between Dec. 26 and Dec. 30 after being granted a three-month extension.
“It’s bad enough that Gov. DeSantis has deprioritized testing with omicron exploding across Florida, but it’s an absolute disgrace for the governor and his communications team to have lied and covered up the massive failure of a million unused tests while Floridians wait in hours-long lines for local tests that are running out,” Fried said Thursday in a statement shared on her social media pages. “Now the governor has to beg President (Joe) Biden for another waiver to even use these expired tests — should they still be safe and effective. The governor’s executive failure during this pandemic continues to hurt Floridians. This is why I speak up.”
DeSantis said there was a “low demand for testing” in September, October, and November.
“Because there wasn’t a lot of COVID going around,” he said. “Then omicron came and when we got into mid-December, you started to really see the demand increase. But I do think as omicron peaks and goes down nationally, not just in Florida, that is absolutely going to affect this market.”
DeSantis said the state will respond to “fill the niches” as needed, but he also warned that “there’s probably going to be a lot of these things dumped on the market, you know, in another couple of months.”
Fried later spoke to reporters Thursday in West Palm Beach, reiterating her stance that the governor and his administration failed Floridians.
“Worst off, during this time period, they lied about it, they tried to cover it, they said that my accusations were unfounded, called me a liar, and the reality is this governor is not fit to serve,” Fried said. “He should have known that this stockpile of tests could have been distributed all throughout the state. This is not only a derelict of responsibility, but this is a complete failure of this governor.”
Fried said new leadership is needed and questioned why DeSantis didn’t contact local health departments, hospitals, nursing homes, and pharmacies about a possible exchange program.
“I’m sad that I’m right,” Fried said. “This is definitely not a good day for the people of our state.”