Elders and schools to get long-sought rapid COVID tests

Florida nursing homes, assisted living facilities and elder communities will soon be able to conduct 15-minute, COVID-19 tests on staff, patients and even visitors each week as part of a long-awaited federal program, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday.

The governor last week said that the state would be getting 6.4 million of the Abbott BinaxNOW rapid tests after the federal government bought the company’s entire supply of 150 million. The weekly shipments will come in batches of 400,000.

On Tuesday, he said the state will distribute more than half of the weekly supply to homes for the state’s most vulnerable: 100,000 to long-term care facilities and 180,000 to other “senior care communities.” Of the remaining, 60,000 tests will go to state-run testing sites, and the other 60,000 tests will to school districts to screen “any student or teacher who developed symptoms and needs to be tested.”

For months, advocates for the state’s most vulnerable populations have pleaded for a testing strategy that would produce immediate results and allow caregivers the ability to know if pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic staff were exposing residents to the deadly infection.

Instead, the state relied on a porous and inconsistent plan that tested staff at nursing homes and ALFs every two weeks, then often waiting days before getting positive test results. The result was that although residents and staff at the nearly 4,000 long-term care facilities comprise 2% of the state’s population, they suffered 40% of the deaths from COVID-19.

The new tests kits are comprised of a cardboard packet the size of an index card. They require a nurse, or someone certified by the state, to swab both of a person’s nostrils, dip the swab in a reagent and wait for the results, which appear within 15 minutes.

About 800 nursing homes have already

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