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Local News

State To Improve Coronavirus Testing

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Florida National Guard
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As July gives way to August, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be front and center in the everyday lives of Floridians. On Monday, two state announcements  and an update from Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson.

Speaking in Ft. Lauderdale, the governor announced that testing for the coronavirus will be given a faster track in the turnaround time between testing and results. That includes “symptomatic” lanes at all drive-through testing sites in Florida to deal with those showing symptoms, and those 65 and over --  “do-it-yourself” testing.

“So they ‘self-swab;’ we have relationships with certain labs, that once we get them the swabs, we usually a 24-hour turnaround from the time the lab receives it,” said the governor. “So hopefully, it will be more of a 48- to 72-hour window, which I think is a big deal when you’re talking about this.”

There will still be a lane for those who are asymptomatic, along with antibody testing. That’s something to think about, says DeSantis, in light of research over the past few weeks. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has moved to a symptoms-based approach for people returning to work.

“They’re discouraging getting a negative PCR virus test,” said DeSantis. “And I think part of the reason that the antibody test may make sense for people who don’t have symptoms, is PCR tests can pick up dead virus – CDC says up to 12 weeks. The antibody test will be able to tell you whether you have the antibodies and whether you have been infected.”

The test can also be a treasure trove of information on whether somebody has had mild COVID and now has antibodies – and what kind of antibodies they are.

“And whether you have IGM antibodies, then you likely had a more recent infection; if you have IGG antibodies, likely [you] were infected a little bit further back in the past,” said the governor. “That’s very valuable information for people to know -- whether they have the antibodies.”

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried launched the “SMART Florida” campaign Monday, aimed at getting Floridians to follow coronavirus health recommendations.

“COVID-19 is a huge crisis and unfortunately, Florida is at the epicenter, said Fried in the video. “We all are doing our part to get through this. So whether at work, or shopping for essentials, make sure you’re following these steps to be SMART, Florida.”

The announcement came as Florida continues to add thousands of new cases each day of COVID-19, and as the death toll statewide tops 7,000. The new campaign’s mantra is some existing advice.

“Social distance by keeping at least 6 ft. apart; wear a mask, avoid crowds by shopping at less busy times, or visiting local stores that might be less crowded,” said Fried. “Remember to wash and sanitize your hands; it protects yourself, your loved ones, and others.”

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Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, introducing the 'SMART Florida' campaign to fight COVID-19.

Fried and other Democrats have criticized DeSantis for weeks about his handling of the pandemic, including his refusal to require people to wear face coverings throughout the state.

“Right now [Escambia County has] 8,000 positive cases, but we only have 7,000 residents,” said Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson during his weekly virtual news conference.

“We’ve been kind of in that 7,000 range for quite a while, which is good news,” said the mayor. "That means we’ve had lower positivity rates; the state showed an 8.9% positivity rate for August 1. We’ve been trying to get below 10 [percent] for some time.

“That’s great news.”

Over the weekend, the number of local COVID-19 cases were at 217 on Sunday -- down from 234 on Saturday and 231 on Friday.

“Over the last week, we kind of got to a stabilization point, and we’re hoping now we’re going to see a trend moving in a downward direction,” said Robinson. “We’re seeing some things obviously happen with positivity rates, and I think that just speaks to the fact of where we are. I see people more and more diligent about masks; the problem is with masks, we cannot let up.”

Now that the numbers appear to be leveling off, the big challenge says the mayor, is driving them down.

“Whenever you see this happen, it takes about two to three weeks for you to really see numbers that work, because of the way the virus lags,” said Robinson. “I think the things we started doing – and getting serious about masks in the mid part of July – really are beginning to show up now. I think if we continue to do that, and continue to be vigilant about our masks, we’re going to see a drop.”

The latest statewide coronavirus numbers can be found at the Florida Department of Health’s website. Those thinking they may have COVID antibodies and wishing to donate plasma can contact OneBlood at www.oneblood.org to set up an appointment.