Medical experts push back on Florida surgeon general’s new COVID-19 testing guidance

Trusted experts in the medical field are responding after Florida’s surgeon general said it’s unnecessary for people who don’t have symptoms to get tested for COVID-19.

MIAMI – Trusted experts in the medical field are responding after Florida’s surgeon general said it’s unnecessary for people who don’t have symptoms to get tested for COVID-19.

Doctors are saying that advice does not follow science.

Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in central Florida, saying he will prioritize at-home COVID tests the state has secured to long-term care facilities.

“I don’t want somebody who is 75 to have to wait in line for an hour,” DeSantis said.

The governor also doubled down on the testing guidance from his new surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Aileen Marty of Florida International University responded to the new recommendation by explaining why it is problematic at best.

“I feel that I am watching Rome burn and Nero is fiddling,” she said. “That is incredibly irresponsible, we have to know where the virus is and people who are positive have to behave knowing that they can spread this to others and that they must not do that.

“This talk of ‘natural immunity’ as if somehow or another putting the word ‘natural’ makes it better, that’s like standing in front of a hurricane and saying, ‘OK it’s natural’, let’s just let the wind take us.’ That is not good public health. Good public health is try and reduce the numbers of people who are infected, who are at risk, and reduce hospitalizations.”

University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Dr. Nate Hafer said for those who choose to get tested, options include antigen tests and PCRs.

“Both of these tests are very accurate,” he said. “That is the reason they are out in the market and authorized by the FDA.

“If people have a close contact or have some reason to believe that they are exposed, I would think that getting a test was a good idea. The thing with this pandemic from the start is that people can be contagious before they have symptoms, that’s what makes this virus so difficult to deal with, so the faster we can identify people who are infected and contagious so that they can isolate themselves away from others and prevent the spread of the disease, the better. So if you have a reason to believe that is the case, go out and get a test.”

Dr. Hafer said PCRs are a better option when you first face an exposure risk.

“PCR tests are the most sensitive tests, because the PCR test is amplifying the genetic material it is usually sensitive enough to detect the virus and the infection early on,” he said.

At-home antigen tests work well, he said, when people are showing symptoms.

“The antigen test typically detects protein form the virus and there is no amplification step, so what is on that swab is what you got and what you have to try to detect with the test,” said Dr. Hafer. “Because the PCR test is so sensitive, it could be picking up small amounts of genetic material from the virus long after you are contagious, up to weeks after the infection, whereas the antigen test, once that infection is cleared and you are not really contagious anymore, it is going to be negative.”

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."