Fried claims COVID tests close to expiring; sniping continues as omicron spreads

By: - December 30, 2021 2:21 pm

Digital generated image of variants of COVID-19. The FDA has deauthorized two medicines that were effective against delta infections but are not against omicron. Credit: Getty Images

Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried on Thursday accused the DeSantis administration of sitting on a stockpile of soon-to-expire COVID tests and urged their rapid distribution, but provided few specifics.

The complaint from Fried, a Democrat seeking her party’s nomination to run against Gov. Ron DeSantis next year, came via a written statement distributed by her department and on her official Twitter thread.

“It’s come to my attention that Gov. DeSantis’ Department of Health has a significant number of COVID-19 tests stockpiled that are set to expire imminently,” Fried wrote.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried speaking in the Florida Cabinet room on. Sept. 1, 2021. Credit: Danielle J. Brown

“Given the governor’s lack of transparency throughout this pandemic, there’s no known public information about these tests or how soon they expire. 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,” she added.

An aide to Fried said the report came from a knowledgeable and trusted source but the aide did not disclose details, except that the tests number around 1 million.

The Phoenix lodged requests for comment with DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw and the Department of Health but has not yet heard back.

The complaint came one day after Fried invited the press to observe as she received a booster shot against the coronavirus and accused DeSantis of failing to show leadership amid the surge in omicron infections. The variant is said to be more transmissible but perhaps less dangerous than previous versions.

“As COVID surges in Florida again, our governor is absent. So here I am doing his job and mine with an update,” Fried wrote on her personal Twitter feed.

DeSantis has not appeared in public since Dec. 20, when he presided over a meeting of the state Board of Administration (which includes the governor and three independently elected Cabinet members) in the Capitol and hosted a holiday reception at the Governor’s Mansion.

Since then, his communications office has disclosed two work days for which DeSantis had no scheduled events, on Christmas Eve and Wednesday. Otherwise, his published schedule has featured staff meetings in the Capitol and calls. On Dec. 22, he did an interview with Dan Bongino, the conservative broadcaster.

Pushaw wrote on her Twitter thread: “ICYMI: @GovRonDeSantis has a wife and 3 kids ages 1-5, and it’s not surprising if he wants to take a few days off at Christmas to spend time with his family, especially as his wife is battling cancer. I don’t criticize Biden for going to Rehoboth Beach all week, right?”

The political rhetoric has been heating up as omicron spreads in Florida and the election year draws closer. Earlier this week, Florida Republicans seized upon President Joe Biden’s remark, during a video conference with state governors, that, “Look, there is no federal solution. This gets solved at the state level,” as vindication for DeSantis’ resistance to federal vaccine mandates and other COVID policies.

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, at a Dec. 17, 2021 news conference in Ocala. Credit: Florida Channel.

On Tuesday, Joseph Ladapo, Florida’s vaccine-skeptical surgeon general, complained in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra that the Biden administration suddenly halted shipments of monoclonal antibody treatments to the state. DeSantis had been heavily promoting these treatments at state-run sites that have reported serving 100,000 patients.

“The federal government is actively preventing the effective distribution of monoclonal antibody treatments in the U.S.,” Ladapo wrote.

“The sudden suspension of multiple monoclonal antibody therapy treatments from distribution in Florida removes a health care provider’s ability to decide the best treatment options for their patients in this state. The shortsightedness is especially evident given that the federal government effectively prohibited states from purchasing these monoclonal antibodies and serving their populations directly.”

A spokeswoman for HHS disputed Ladapo’s assertions, saying the agency has allocated some 22,000 doses to the state within the past two weeks and that the state has about 28,000 doses left from previous shipments.

“In other words, Florida should have strong supply of product on hand – and more than most other states,” the spokeswoman said.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.