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Florida surgeon general’s call for people to stop relying on testing is a ‘me first, forget everybody else’ approach, health expert says

A long line of cars is seen at the entrance to a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site in Barnett Park in Orlando.

Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

  • Florida is switching its approach to COVID-19 testing, focusing on giving tests to “high-value” patients. 
  • A public health expert told Insider this method is consistent with a “me first, forget everybody else” approach. 
  • She said the state should actually be ramping up testing, rather than cutting back.

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo’s call for people to stop relying on COVID-19 testing is “consistent with an anti-public health approach to the pandemic” and a “me first, forget everybody else” way of thinking, a public health expert told Insider. 

At a COVID-19 briefing Monday, Ladapo and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced the state will be shifting focus to testing “high-value” patients as cases surge due to the Omicron variant. 

“High-value testing is testing that is likely to change outcomes,” Ladapo said.

He added that they are working to unwind the testing psychology that has been caused by federal leadership. 

“We need to unwind this testing and living one’s life around testing,” Ladapo said. “Without it, we’re going to be stuck in the same cycle so it’s really time for people to be living, to be making the decisions they want regarding vaccination, and enjoy the fact that many people have natural immunity.”

Dr. Celine Gounder, an Infectious Disease Specialist and Epidemiologist at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, told Insider she sees this move as a focus on the individual rather than the community. 

“Testing psychology is really about caring and looking out for others,” she said. “Basically what they’re saying is ‘You don’t need to worry about other people, you can just focus on yourself as the individual. You can make your individual decisions about whether you get infected or not, whether you get vaccinated or not, and you take responsibility for your individual decisions.'”

She added that it implies that the state does not want to isolate or quarantine people to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“That really is not going to be part of the policy here if they are going to focus on individuals,” she said. 

In order to get to the other side of the pandemic, Gounder said that actions in the interest of the community are actually in the individual interest.

She said a lack of understanding of this mindset is contributing to attitudes that work to treat COVID-19 as an individual, rather than a community-wide, problem. 

“I think it’s corrosive in terms of thinking about public health problems which are community-level problems, population-level problems,” she said. “Trying to reduce those to individual issues, which they are not, and that really sets you up for failure. At least if you care about preventing disease and death.” 

She added that in states where “individual trumps community,” you could see the same pattern of shifting testing techniques. 

For a state like Florida, where testing lines are getting unmanageable, Gounder said the right move is actually to be ramping up testing rather than cutting back as this plan proposes. 

“Clearly there is demand for testing that’s not being met,” she said. “Putting our heads in the sand and pretending this isn’t happening isn’t going to help us.” 

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