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1 million COVID tests that expired in a Florida warehouse get FDA approval for use

FDA OK's use of expired COVID tests in Florida
1 million COVID tests that expired in a Florida warehouse get FDA's permission for use 01:10

Florida officials confirmed last week that between 800,000 and 1 million COVID tests had expired in a warehouse just before the New Year due to "low demand." On January 7, the Food and Drug Administration issued a letter to Abbott Diagnostics, which produced the tests, saying they have extended the shelf-life for those tests and that they can still be used. 

The Florida Department of Health provided the letter from the FDA to CBS News, in which the agency says that the thousands of BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card tests can be used until March. The extension, the FDA said, is based on the results of Abbott's ongoing stability studies.   

The tests, according to Florida Department of Health Press Secretary Jeremy Redfern, are pre-packaged kits that have to be administered by "trained individuals," and are not designed for individual use. 

The Department of Health told CBS News that the shelf life of the tests was originally extended in April, and they expired in September 2021. The state then asked for another extension, Kevin Guthrie, director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, said last week.

According to the state, the tests will now go to "county emergency management offices, county health departments, public safety agencies, hospitals and long-term care facilities." 

The stockpile of expired tests was first discovered by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in December, when someone whom she described as "pretty high up in the governor's office" disclosed the information. 

She tweeted about the stockpile on December 30, as the COVID-19 Omicron variant was surging through Florida. 

It wasn't until a week later, on January 6, that Florida officials confirmed information about the stockpile in a press conference.

"We had between 800,000 and a million test kits — Abbott test kits — in our warehouse that did expire," Kevin Guthrie, director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, said at the conference. "We tried to give them out prior to that, but there wasn't a demand for it." 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said at the time that the tests had already received an extended life in September, but that "there wasn't a lot of demand for them." 

"They've been sending them out as requested. There was no withholding anything," he said. "It's just the FDA hasn't gotten back to DEM about whether you can still send." 

DeSantis said at last week's press conference that the state had wanted to provide the tests to long-term care facilities when they originally received them, but that the facilities claimed they didn't have any staff on hand to administer them. He said that Omicron was the reason for the latest surge in demand, and that there "wasn't a lot of COVID going around" in the summer and fall. 

The Florida Department of Health reiterated that claim to CBS News on Friday, saying "COVID cases were so low in Florida that there wasn't enough demand to use the tests before they expired." 

On July 30, Florida reported 21,683 new cases of COVID-19 — which, at the time, was the most infections in a single day since the start of the pandemic. In the week leading up to December 30, when the COVID test stockpile was made public, there were more than a million COVID tests performed in the state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 3 million tests were performed in the month leading up to that date.

Florida residents have also described months of difficulty getting tests, with long lines and few testing appointment available. 

Fried said on Tuesday that she's "glad that we were able to bring the truth to light and help facilitate the extension." 

"As I've said throughout the pandemic, knowledge is power," she said. "Testing provides individuals the information needed to protect others if they have COVID-19 and is a critical tool in our fight against this virus." 

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