WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Contact 5 investigation has found that while Palm Beach County ranks second in the state for COVID-19 deaths, per-capita testing for the virus lags behind most other large counties in Florida.
According to an analysis performed by Contact 5, Palm Beach County ranks eighth out of the ten most populous counties when it comes to per-capita testing for COVID-19, having tested just under 730 per 100,000 residents, as of Monday evening.
Miami-Dade County has tested twice as many, at a rate of just under 1,560 per 100,000 residents. Broward County performed nearly twice as many COVID-19 tests per capita.
Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Broward counties are a 'hotspot' for COVID-19 cases, with a combined 296 deaths and 12,525 confirmed cases.
So, why is Palm Beach County so far behind in per-capita testing?
"It really looks like they took a passive approach to testing in our county," said Dr. Terry Adirim in an interview with Contact 5. "We're not testing enough, we're just not."
Adirim is a professor of pediatrics and senior associate dean for clinical affairs at Florida Atlantic University's Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine. Adirim also served as a senior medical official at the Department of Homeland Security during the 2009-H1N1 pandemic.
The Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County declined WPTV's on-camera interview request, telling Contact 5 in an email response to our questions they have "worked with all of our public health partners to ensure that testing needs in Palm Beach County are met."
Adirim told Contact 5 she believed, "the state itself did not have a strategy for testing ... I think they were hoping that private entities would develop these tests and get them going.”
Contact 5 found three laboratories at hospitals in Broward and Miami-Dade counties performed more COVID-19 testing alone than all the tests conducted in Palm Beach County.
"If they determined that in Palm Beach County there are no hospitals that have the internal capability, it would have been good if they had been proactive," said Adirim.
Adirim also told Contact 5 officials should have been in touch with "those institutions to determine how they can help support development of that internal capability."
Emails obtained by Contact 5 show back in March, county officials were frustrated at the lack of testing supplies.
Deputy County Administrator Jon Van Arnam told county commissioners on March 26, "the availability of collection kits is currently the limiting resource."
County Commissioner Robert Weinroth wrote the next day, "We are trying to marshal the resources to go at it alone, but the facilities to have the tests evaluated once administered is lacking."
"We agree this is not acceptable and we are working to address it."
In a recent interview with Contact 5, Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner pointed to the population 65 and older when noting, "That is why we fought so hard, despite the Federal government's lack of action, to make sure we have two testing sites in our county."
The county has two drive-thru testing sites. The first, at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, opened on March 31, while a south Palm Beach County location at the South County Civic Center opened on April 7.
Adirim says she fears without enough testing, models and planning might be hampered.
"It certainly will have an impact of planning, certainly have an impact on our ability to know whether or not what we’re doing is working, or if we need to do something else," Adirim told Contact 5.
WPTV asked the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County how the agency is planning ahead with such a limited number of COVID-19 tests performed.
In a written response, a spokesperson told Contact 5 the agency is working with the state "to ensure that everyone who needs a test gets a test."
Just minutes after receiving that response, the county sent an email announcing the temporary suspension of the COVID-19 hotline used for scheduling appointments at the drive-through testing site in West Palm Beach until "additional test kits are received."