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Democrats are outraged over how Florida Gov. DeSantis' has handled COVID testing


Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had to answer questions this month about why his administration let nearly a million rapid COVID tests expire. The federal government has now granted an extension that will allow the tests to be used, but DeSantis says there's too much unnecessary testing. Democrats are responding with outrage. NPR's Greg Allen reports from Miami.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: No Republican has been more critical of President Biden and his response to COVID than Governor DeSantis.


RON DESANTIS: He had a plan on Day 1 to shut down the virus. Well, now we are here almost a year in. And clearly, they have not been able to, quote, "shut down the virus."

ALLEN: After first promoting testing and vaccinations, DeSantis now mostly talks about the availability of monoclonal antibody treatments for people already infected. Florida closed all of its state-run COVID test sites in May and didn't reopen them even when the omicron surge overwhelmed local capacity. Last month, as people waited in lines for hours, Florida's top Democrat, Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried, had a startling revelation - that the state had a stockpile of nearly a million tests that had just expired. After first denying it, the administration was forced to admit that Fried, who is running for governor against DeSantis, was right. Here's Fried.


NIKKI FRIED: They lied about it. They tried to cover it. They said that my accusations were unfounded, called me a liar. And the reality is this governor is not fit to serve.

ALLEN: This week, the federal government gave Florida an extension that will allow the test kits to be used. But the episode put DeSantis on the defensive.


DESANTIS: We just had a lack of demand that happened in September, October, November. Nobody was requesting them. They would have been used, I think, had we had omicron then.

ALLEN: Over the last several months, DeSantis has charted his own course in responding to COVID. He's fought with local governments, school boards and the Biden administration over mask and vaccine mandates. DeSantis opposes them, and he recently hired a surgeon general who agrees with him. Dr. Joseph Ladapo is a cardiologist who's skeptical about the usefulness of masks and vaccines in controlling spread of the virus. He recently issued guidelines to recommend COVID testing only for those who have symptoms. Ladapo acknowledges that's contrary to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


JOSEPH LADAPO: It does not make sense to be running around with swabs, testing people who are completely healthy.

ALLEN: Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University, says it's clear that people without symptoms can spread the virus. She says Florida's new testing guidance undermines important public health principles.

AILEEN MARTY: It does provide the type of advice that leads to spreading the virus, and that's the problem. And it also gives people a false sense of the way that we should manage this.


BEN FRAZIER: Why am I being handcuffed? Why am I being handcuffed?

ALLEN: DeSantis' my-way-or-the-highway COVID stance has won him praise from his Republican supporters and on Fox News, where he's a frequent guest. But it's alienated others.


FRAZIER: During the upsurge of the variant, this governor has been mysteriously missing in action.

ALLEN: Last week community activist Ben Frazier was removed before he could ask DeSantis questions at a news conference. DeSantis says he was working over the holidays when omicron was surging and lines were lengthening at test centers. He says he also took a day to be with his wife when she was receiving treatment for breast cancer. His critics, he says, are just opportunists.


DESANTIS: There are some politicians that - the minute you see an increase in cases, they want to run in front of the camera, and they want to start selling that fear.

ALLEN: DeSantis says as COVID has surged, some politicians have exercised power illegitimately. His opponents say the same thing about him.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDREW BIRD SONG, "BLOODLESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.