Nikki Fried accuses Gov. Ron DeSantis of stockpiling COVID-19 rapid tests

Florida's emergency management director admits state allowed 800,000-1 million to expire; DeSantis says demand wasn't there
Gov. Ron DeSantis and Nikki Fried, sparring over COVID-19 testing
Posted at 12:47 PM, Jan 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-06 23:37:53-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — As the omicron variant continues to spread throughout Florida and the country, the state's emergency management director admitted Thursday that Florida allowed hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 rapid test kits to expire, citing a lack of demand for them.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has accused Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Health of stockpiling tests amid hours-long lines at testing sites in some parts of the state.

During a news conference in West Palm Beach, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said the state did have a warehouse full of COVID-19 rapid test kits that have since expired.

WATCH: Florida's emergency management director says state had COVID-19 rapid tests 'that did expire'

Florida's emergency management director says state had COVID-19 rapid tests 'that did expire'

"We had between 800,000 and 1 million test kits — Abbott rapid test kits — in our warehouse that did expire," Guthrie said. "We tried to give them out prior to that, but there was not a demand for it."

Guthrie's remarks confirm what Fried, the lone Democrat in the Florida Cabinet who is challenging DeSantis for governor, has alleged since Christmastime.

Fried boasted of the governor's admission in a Twitter post.

"Just like I told you," she wrote.

Guthrie said the tests expired between Dec. 26 and Dec. 30 after being granted a three-month extension.

"It's bad enough that Gov. DeSantis has deprioritized testing with omicron exploding across Florida, but it's an absolute disgrace for the governor and his communications team to have lied and covered up the massive failure of a million unused tests while Floridians wait in hours-long lines for local tests that are running out," Fried said Thursday in a statement shared on her social media pages. "Now the governor has to beg President (Joe) Biden for another waiver to even use these expired tests — should they still be safe and effective. The governor's executive failure during this pandemic continues to hurt Floridians. This is why I speak up."

DeSantis said there was a "low demand for testing" in September, October and November.

"Because there wasn't a lot of COVID going around," he said. "Then omicron came and when we got into mid-December, you started to really see the demand increase. But I do think as omicron peaks and goes down nationally, not just in Florida, that is absolutely going to affect this market."

DeSantis said the state will respond to "fill the niches" as needed, but he also warned that "there's probably going to be a lot of these things dumped on the market, you know, in another couple of months."

Fried later spoke to reporters Thursday in West Palm Beach, reiterating her stance that the governor and his administration failed Floridians.

WATCH: Nikki Fried: 'This governor is not fit to serve'

Nikki Fried: 'This governor is not fit to serve'

"Worst off, during this time period, 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," Fried said. "He should have known that this stockpile of tests could have been distributed all throughout the state. This is not only a derelict of responsibility, but this is a complete failure of this governor."

Fried said new leadership is needed and questioned why DeSantis didn't contact local health departments, hospitals, nursing homes and pharmacies about a possible exchange program.

"I'm sad that I'm right," Fried said. "This is definitely not a good day for the people of our state."

Jeremy Redfern, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Tallahassee, told WPTV in an email that the agency has distributed 3.4 million COVID-19 tests statewide since July.

"To suggest that the Florida Department of Health waited around for these test kits to expire is simply false," Redfern said.

Redfern went on to write that the Florida Department of Health "has supported mission requests from various partners, including, but not limited to, county emergency management agencies, county health departments, public safety agencies, hospitals and long-term care facilities."

"Our staff continuously notified our partners of the availability of these tests," he said.