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Should COVID tests be prioritized for some people? Florida surgeon general says so

Florida's surgeon general said the state should prioritize "high value" testing versus "low value" testing.

TAMPA, Fla. — Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo said it's time to stop "planning and living life" around COVID-19 testing. 

Dr. Ladapo announced the state will be the first to emphasize "high-value" testing versus "low-value" testing through a new plan. He used the example of an elderly grandmother given more testing consideration over an 8-year-old third grader.  

The argument would also alleviate the high demand for testing supplies, Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a Monday briefing. 

But doctors 10 Tampa Bay spoke with said ideally, anyone experiencing mild symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19 should still be tested amid this latest surge from the omicron variant. 

They said testing remains a key tool to preventing the transmission of COVID-19 to more people susceptible to hospitalization or death.

However, given the limited supply of tests available, Dr. Jill Roberts of USF Health said tests should be preserved for now to people with high-risk, immunocompromised conditions.

"Testing is important to detect cases and to detect people from spreading it, but if we can't do that, we can't," Dr. Jill Roberts of USF Health said. "This is not a good scenario."

But Dr. Michael Teng of USF Health said labeling who is high priority is not always known. He said the circumstances go to show how much more the country needs to expand testing capacity.

"There are people who have medical vulnerabilities who are high priority but many of our residents can't afford health care or don't know they have medical vulnerabilities because they haven't seen a physician in years," Teng said. "We just need more tests."

Beyond testing, Dr. Thomas Unnasch of USF Health stressed the importance of vaccinations. More mild complications from the omicron variant are appearing toward fully vaccinated individuals with booster shots, Unnasch said. 

Doctors said even if one is unable to get tested for COVID-19 and know their status, there are ways to ensure one is mitigating the spread.

"If you're feeling like you're getting sick, just stay home," Unnasch said. 

Doctors said anyone feeling ill but don't know their status due to lack of testing should take all measures to prevent the spread just like other contagious diseases.

Roberts said the surge in cases also calls for the need for continued mask-wearing to prevent even more spread.

"Hopefully, this is a time-limited thing and we can get tests out to the state relatively quickly," Roberts said. "It is a shame because it's such an important tool."

Ladapo said the state's new testing plan won't restrict testing but the guidance "unwinds" the testing psychology that the federal government has placed.

"It's really time for people to be living, to make the decisions they want regarding vaccination, to enjoy the fact that many people have natural immunity. And to unwind this preoccupation with only COVID as determining the boundaries and constraints and possibilities of life," Ladapo said.

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