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Florida physicians push for statewide rapid testing in public schools

'We can break the chain of transmission,' Miami doctor says
Posted at 6:22 PM, Sep 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-10 18:23:01-04

As more cases of COVID-19 pop up in public schools around the state, a growing chorus of parents, teachers, and physicians are now pushing for more rapid testing.

Alisha McCall, a mother of three from Tallahassee, is doing everything she can to keep her kids from catching the coronavirus.

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"The biggest thing for me is to make sure that they are safe," McCall said. "I can't really do that if we don't have all the information or testing readily available."

McCall said a statewide rapid testing program for schools might bring some peace of mind. She'd feel safer if districts knew within minutes who does and doesn't have the virus.

"As a mother, it would make me feel like I have another way to keep my children safe," McCall said.

Dr. Bernard Ashby
Dr. Bernard Ashby says rapid testing at schools will allow for infected people to be quickly quarantined and not spread the coronavirus to others.

Currently, individual districts decide how best to test, and most schools rely on standard PCR exams. In Florida, they usually take 48 to 72 hours for results.

"Meanwhile, that person didn't know they were infected, and they're spreading it to everyone," said Dr. Frederick Southwick, a Gainesville infectious disease specialist and member of Florida's Committee to Protect Medicare.

Southwick and other Florida doctors with the committee said a statewide rapid testing program could cut down wait times to just 15 minutes. They're now pushing the governor to consider the option.

"If we know you have the virus, we can break the chain of transmission by quarantining you immediately," said Dr. Bernard Ashby, a Miami cardiologist.

Rapid testing does have drawbacks. One of the biggest is they are often not as reliable as standard PCR tests. But the physicians say they are seeing improvements as more companies innovate and create new products.

"We have the technology to do rapid testing, but that has not been a priority for the administration," Ashby said. "It's been an afterthought."

The governor's office said it is eyeing new rapid tests from Abbott. The company recently made headlines after announcing their $5 tests had received FDA approval.

"After Abbott announced the new availability of $5, 15-minute rapid tests, the federal government purchased the remaining supply for the year," DeSantis Press Secretary Cody McCloud said in an email. "The federal government has indicated that Florida will receive an allocation of these rapid tests."

McCloud went on to say that officials will determine how best to use the tests depending on the amount Florida receives.