World

Why Florida’s battle against the virus is misfiring badly

MIAMI: Florida has emerged as a major new epicentre of the US coronavirus battle, but two key weapons in the state's fight are misfiring badly: testing and contact tracing.

Health officials say that when a person is tested they need to get the results in 48 hours or less, so if they are in fact positive they can self-isolate right away and avoid infecting others.

But in the Sunshine State, it is taking up to 10 days for results to return.

Such was the case of Ms Gemma Garcia, a Spanish journalist who waited 11 days for her test results.

During that time she practised social distancing but did not quarantine.

Her test came back positive, and then she did isolate herself.

"And I contacted all the people I had been with," said Ms Garcia, 53. Luckily, they all came back negative.

This lag between testing and results coming back is one of the reasons Florida is a red hot spot in the pandemic - along with Texas and California - in the country hardest hit by the virus sweeping the globe.

Right now, one of every 50 people in Florida is infected.

Florida reported a record increase in deaths for a second day in a row yesterday, with 217 fatalities in the last 24 hours.

It also reported 9,446 new cases, bringing its total infections to over 451,000, the second highest in the country behind California.

US deaths surpassed 150,000 yesterday, the highest level in the world. This is the fastest increase in fatalities since the US went from 100,000 cases to 110,000 cases in 11 days early last month.

Texas leads the nation with nearly 4,000 deaths so far this month, followed by Florida with 2,690 and California, the most populous state, with 2,500.

With things so messy, people are pointing fingers searching for a culprit.

Two weeks ago, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, a firm ally of President Donald Trump and of reopening the economy despite the warnings of health experts, blamed the labs doing the testing.

Mr DeSantis threatened to stop sending work to those labs that take a long time to return the results.

"You have somebody going through one of the sites, and then they get a result back 10 days later. That is not really going to be very helpful," he said.

Since then, two big lab companies, Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, said the government has allowed them to do what are called pool tests to save time. This means several samples are combined and examined together.

If the group tests positive, then the individuals in it are tested one by one.

The testing-result lag time also makes contact tracing - which in other countries proved critical in controlling the pandemic - inefficient and unmanageable. - REUTERS, AFP

WORLD