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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asked if people ever sought testing to see if they were sick before the coronavirus pandemic: ‘Think about it’

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis this week asked if people ever got tested for illness prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • His comments sparked confusion online, with many pointing out common preventative screenings for diseases like cancer.
  • DeSantis recently faced criticism for allowing around one million COVID-19 tests to expire in a warehouse. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday raised eyebrows when at a press conference he asked whether people got screened for illness prior to the COVID-19 pandemic during a speech where he railed against testing for the coronavirus.

“Now think about it,” DeSantis said Friday. “Before COVID did anyone go out and seek testing to determine if they were sick? It’s usually you feel like you’re sick and you get tested to determine what you maybe have come down with.” 

A clip of DeSantis’ remarks shared to Twitter elicited numerous responses that pointed out preventive screenings for numerous diseases, including sexually transmitted infections and forms of cancer, are common even in people who do not have any symptoms of the disease.

Others also pointed toward a December 2021 tweet from DeSantis’ wife, Casey DeSantis, where she advocated for preventative cancer testing and talked about her own breast cancer diagnosis.

California Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu wrote in response to the Florida governor: “Think about it. Before polio, did anyone go out and seek the polio vaccine? Before cancer, did anyone go out and seek mammograms, colonoscopies or pap smears? Before fire, did anyone go out and seek to boil water? New discoveries cause behavior change.” 

—Christina Pushaw 🐊 (@ChristinaPushaw) January 7, 2022


A representative for DeSantis told Inisder DeSantis stood by the remarks.

“He was very clear, and there is no need to clarify his remarks further,” she said. “Never before in history have we seen mass testing of asymptomatic people for a respiratory virus.

“The comparison of mass daily/weekly COVID testing and annual cancer screening is absurd, and it is sickening that the media and Democrats attempt to use the First Lady’s cancer diagnosis to score cheap political points. Try to do better,” she added.

Public-health experts have said that regular COVID-19 testing helps stem the spread of COVID-19 by allowing individuals with asymptomatic infections to isolate to prevent spreading the disease to people who face severe complications if infected. However, rapid tests have been in short supply. Health officials have recommended people with symptoms assume they have COVID-19 and isolate for at least five days.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden’s administration, which mandates businesses with more than 100 employees allows employers to do weekly testing of individuals who are not vaccinated against COVID-19, recently purchased 500 million at-home tests for Americans to order online for free. Experts have said the best time to take a rapid test is right before you see vulnerable people or a large group, but in situations where tests are very limited, some disease experts recommended people wait until they develop symptoms before getting tested for COVID-19. 

“So, this is kind of a new thing where they’ve been saying go out and test all the time,” Gov. DeSantis said. “Again, you’re free to do it, but what the DOH guidance from Florida is saying is that’s unlikely to lead very much clinical value for you, and it also creates a lot of second-order follow up problems.”

DeSantis, a Trump-aligned Republican who throughout the pandemic has been at the forefront of criticism around efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19, called widespread testing “essentially a lockdown by stealth” because a person would need to isolate even if they weren’t showing symptoms of illness. 

“What happens is blanket testing of healthy people leads to some kids not being in school, it leads to people not being able to go to work, and doing some of these isolation which may not even be justified, he said. “To force healthy people like business to do that or whatever, we don’t advise that at all. We think that’s a mistake.” 

DeSantis’ administration has also received recent criticism after it admitted it allowed between 800,000 to one million COVID-19 tests to expire in a warehouse. Kevin Guthrie, the director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, said there hadn’t been enough demand for them. 

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