A stockpile of as many as 1 million COVID-19 tests sat in a Florida warehouse and expired, Gov. Ron DeSantis admitted on Jan. 6 as the state and the rest of the country are facing a steep demand for tests and a surge of new infections.
But rather than let the tests go unused, the Food and Drug Administration has allowed the state to extend the expiration date of the tests, allowing them to be used until March as the state, and the rest of the country, faces a surge of new COVID cases due to the Omicron variant.
The governor's office had previously brushed off questions about the stockpile's expiration, but when asked during a press conference, the state's Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie admitted that somewhere between 800,000 and 1 million tests had expired at the end of the year.
"We tried to get them out," Guthrie told reporters. "But there was not a demand for it."
Yet last week, Floridians reportedly waited up to three hours to get a COVID-19 test as cases and potential exposures spiked due to the more infectious Omicron variant. And on Dec. 21, officials in the state's most populous county, Miami-Dade, reportedly asked state officials to send any available tests to meet the spiking demand.
"We are asking that all possible tests that come through the state for distribution be allocated to Miami-Dade given the surge in demand in our community for testing options," a spokesperson for the county mayor's office told Local 10.
In a letter obtained by BuzzFeed News, the FDA extended the expiration of the tests to 15 months due to Florida's "ongoing stability studies." The extension marks the second time Florida has requested an expiration date extension for that particular batch of tests.
The tests, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health said, were not at-home tests and must be administered by professionals.
DeSantis on Jan. 6 said tests were being sent out to local jurisdictions as requested. Demand for COVID tests had slowed down in September, when the tests in the stockpile were first set to expire, he added.
"There was no withholding of anything," the governor told reporters.
State officials at that time requested permission from federal health officials to extend the use of the tests for three more months, Guthrie said. That request was granted, but still the tests sat unused and expired between Dec. 26 and Dec. 30.
Florida officials then requested another three-month extension to use the tests.
"The thing is, if they're not authorized, if they're not accurate, we don't want to send inaccurate tests," DeSantis said.
The existence of the unused tests became public when Florida agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried put out a statement about them, pointing out they were about to expire.
"Given the Governor's lack of transparency throughout this pandemic, there's no known public information about these tests or how soon they expire," she said on Dec. 30 in a statement. "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, a Democrat, is currently running for governor.
DeSantis's office at first brushed off questions about the tests, with his spokesperson Christina Pushaw telling a local NBC 2 reporter that Fried's allegation was "bizarre."
After DeSantis admitted the tests had expired, Pushaw then inaccurately tweeted that the tests had expired before the Omicron surge, leaving out that an extension of their use had been authorized.
Fried, in turn, accused DeSantis and his office of lying and now attempting a cover-up.
"The governor of the third largest state lied to you about COVID tests," she tweeted. "When we caught him, he used your tax dollars to come after me for telling you the truth."