State, Locals Working to Reopen Florida

May 6, 2020

The UWF testing site is the area's state-run site open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays.
Credit UWF

Work continues on both the state and local levels to reopen Florida, in a way that keeps another surge of the coronavirus from appearing.

First up Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis in Miami saying that the number of patients seriously ill with COVID-19 has dropped substantially, even in the hotbed that is South Florida.

“And there are over 6,300 ventilators throughout the state of Florida that are just not being used; and so, to be under 300 patients now with that, that’s a positive trend for us,” the governor said.

Testing also continues to ramp up statewide, according to DeSantis.

“Between state-supported test sites; what the hospitals have done, what private labs have done, we’re close now, to inching up to 500,000 tests administered since this began,” said DeSantis. “The problem is, you may be negative today and you could potentially catch it three days from now. So a diagnostic test is a snapshot in time.”

What’s now being added to statewide testing sites over the next few days is “serological testing” – the search for COVID antibodies in the blood.

“Basically, people that have had the disease, their bodies will generate antibodies to fight it; and we can then test to see whether you have the antibodies,” said DeSantis. “Once the antibodies develop it’s not like you’re going to lose the antibodies the next day. So this is very important, particularly for our first responder and our health care workers.”

“Sacred Heart [Hospital] currently has seven people there with COVID, hospitalized; they’ve had a high of 10, which came on April 17. And they’ve been trending downward,” said Pensacola mayor Grover Robinson.

“Baptist Healthcare currently has five individuals with COVID; they had a high of 13 on April 20,” Robinson said. “West Florida currently has three; they were at six – their high – on April 24.”

The latest weapon in the fight against the coronavirus is hitting the road -- mobile labs with rapid testing capability – perhaps the first of their kind, according to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“So you’ll be able to take a sample, bring it to the lab, and then putting a cartridge in a machine, [and] within 45 minutes you’re going to get the diagnostic result,” said the governor. “That is not antibody; that is whether you’re positive for the coronavirus or not.”

The mobile labs will be run 24/7 by the firm StatLab, which will process about 3,500 test per week. That will be valuable, says DeSantis with helping National Guard troops testing patients at long-term care facilities across Florida.

“They’ve been able to identify some clusters and keep it from spreading; but it takes 24 to 48 hours at least to get those results when you’re sending it to a private lab,” said DeSantis. “Now with this, you’ll be able to go to long-term care facilities [and] get results back almost immediately.”

Closer to home, plans to close Palafox Street downtown announced by Mayor Grover Robinson on Monday are on hold until at least next week, when restaurant and retail business owners can meet. And Robinson says this is not just a “Palafox thing.”

“We have been talking as well about other areas; the huge area of retail and restaurants that we have in the Cordova Mall area,” said Robinson. “They’re cautiously opening up, and they’ve worked some protocols there for people to be able to go into the mall. But they’re trying to do it like everyone else – open it, but in a way that is measured.”

The Robinson administration’s also working with local sports organizations, on just when outdoor games can resume.

“What we would really be going on is baseball; so we have been working with baseball, looking at perhaps a summer season,” the mayor said. “Obviously we’re still looking at moving forward with sports as they come into the fall season. We’ll have to comply with the CDC and Florida Department of Health guidelines.”

Meanwhile, today’s Pensacola News Journal reports a number of local churches which canceled in-person religious services at the start of the outbreak, are now planning to reopen with social distancing rules in place.