ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Three Florida Department of Health labs are now able to test for the new coronavirus, cutting wait times significantly for results, state officials said Saturday.
State health officials said in an email that labs in Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami can conduct the tests, which previously had to be sent to federal labs. The upshot is the results should be available 24 to 48 hours instead of three to five days, officials said.
"The most important thing is it will bring down the average testing time," said Deputy Health Secretary Shamarial Roberson in a telephone interview. "It helps address this in a more efficient time."
Florida officials had been awaiting approval for one component of the test from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Roberson said. That approval came Friday.
The announcement comes a day after health officials and Gov. Ron DeSantis said no cases of the virus, also known as covid-19, have been reported in Florida, but four people who may have been exposed in China and have exhibited possible symptoms are awaiting test results. Another 15 similar people tested negative.
In addition, more than 150 Floridians who have returned from China but have not shown symptoms are being monitored until the disease's two-week incubation period passes and asked not to have contact with others, the officials said.
The development on the state lab testing was first reported by the Miami Herald. Florida had been waiting for federal officials to allow them to do their own lab testing.
It comes as the first reported U.S. death from the virus was reported in Washington state.
President Donald Trump said at a White House news conference Saturday that 22 people in the U.S. have been stricken by the new coronavirus, including the just-reported death and four are deemed "very ill," and that additional cases are "likely."
The U.S. has a total of about 60 confirmed cases. Trump's number seems to exclude cases of Americans repatriated from China or evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
The U.S. is banning travel to Iran in response to the outbreak of the virus and elevating travel warnings to regions of Italy and South Korea. Trump said the U.S. is also considering restricting travel from Mexico across the southern border.