TAMPA, Fla. — UPDATE: About 800,000 to 1 million COVID test kits did, in fact, expire in Florida, but the state says there's more context behind that revelation. Read the latest in-depth update here.
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Spokespeople for Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Health are pushing back against Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried's claim that the state is stockpiling COVID-19 tests that are about to expire.
The war of words began Dec. 30 when Fried, who is running against her political rival DeSantis in the upcoming election, released a statement through her communications team with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. An emailed statement from her state government office implied the DeSantis administration was storing up tests amid a surge in new coronavirus cases.
“It’s come to my attention that Governor DeSantis’ Department of Health has a significant number of COVID-19 tests stockpiled that are set to expire imminently," Fried wrote in the statement distributed to media outlets through her press team.
"Given the Governor’s lack of transparency throughout this pandemic, there’s no known public information about these tests or how soon they expire," Fried continued. "With omicron infections exploding throughout Florida, I beg of him to release these tests immediately to local counties and cities, and to stand up state-sponsored testing sites. To let these tests expire while Floridians anxiously wait for hours in testing lines is negligent at best, and heartless at worst.”
Fried also tweeted the statement, prompting a swift response from Florida Department of Health Press Secretary Jeremy Redfern.
"It’s come to my attention that @NikkiFried needs to turn on that blinker and get back in her lane," Redfern wrote.
On Tuesday, Fried stuck to her story, claiming roughly one million tests were sitting with the state and about to expire. She said her source for that information was someone high within the governor's office but declined to name the person.
In an email, DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw said, "the governor’s office does not have any COVID tests, so Commissioner Fried’s statement is simply false."
Pushaw deferred to the health department for further details on state-supported testing. The health department has not yet provided a response to our request for comment on the matter.
Speaking Tuesday in Jacksonville, DeSantis suggested the Biden administration had not made enough at-home kits available for mass testing.
"The state of Florida is working to secure and distribute additional tests to those in need, and will have an update on that very soon," Pushaw added.
DeSantis' remarks were delayed Tuesday after an activist who described the governor as an "enemy of the public" was placed into handcuffs and removed from the Duval County Department of Health. Northside Coalition Founder Ben Frazier sat in the back of a police cruiser for about 45 minutes before being issued a citation and released.
The incident prompted further comments from Fried, who condemned it as "extremely disturbing" and said the governor "should be ashamed."
DeSantis' office, on the other hand, said Frazier had previously disrupted a State Board of Education meeting and a city council meeting. The office maintained the event was for credentialed media only.
"Every citizen has the right to protest in public places – but not to trespass in a secured facility in order to disrupt a press briefing and prevent information from being conveyed to the public," the governor's office wrote.
Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo is expected to release new COVID testing guidance soon, emphasizing testing for those most vulnerable to the virus.