For a state this big and diverse, our level of testing is atrocious. We need to be testing more Floridians, faster.

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"It's the testing, stupid." That's how we began an editorial two weeks ago in the hopes of focusing attention on what we believed was the real issue when it came to halting the spread of COVID-19, the deadly disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

We didn’t mean to be flip. We meant to be blunt.

And sadly, we need to be so again. With reported coronavirus infections exceeding 13,000, and deaths exceeding 230 as of Monday, Florida is still woefully behind in testing, for a population of 21 million.

Because ‒ being blunt again ‒ no one has any idea how many coronavirus cases have gone undetected in this state. No one. And that, according to health experts, is still the problem when it comes to stopping this killer virus.

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Palm Beach County, designated as part of the epicenter of the virus spread in the state, finally got its first government testing site on Tuesday. It was quickly overwhelmed and its lines temporarily shut down – all kits were committed.

By Thursday, state and county officials -- with the help of state Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Delray Beach -- promised to open a second site there.

We can only hope that this quicker response means that Gov. Ron DeSantis is finally done playing an increasingly dangerous game of catch-up with a virus 10 times more deadly than the flu.

Florida’s huge elderly population and wide-open tourism sector have made us fertile ground for the coronavirus. And it’s only through widespread testing that we stand a chance of slowing its spread. Because we can't do that effectively without knowing who is infected, and where.

Of course, "social distancing" is essential. But increasingly, public health officials say that staying away from one another must be augmented with testing.

"Everyone staying home is just a very blunt measure. That's what you say when you've got really nothing else," says Emily Gurley, an associate scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Being able to test folks is really the linchpin in getting beyond what we're doing now."

In other words, social distancing alone can't cut it. Not when it takes our governor having to be nationally embarrassed before he issues a statewide “stay-at-home” order. Not when our local officials are struggling to coordinate their own separate directives. And certainly not when residents, businesses and private clubs blatantly ignore those directives.

We appreciate when the governor says the state has "expanded testing dramatically," conducting more than 60,000 in the past few weeks. But Florida had still tested fewer people than Washington, a state less than half our size.

For a state this big and diverse, our level of testing is atrocious. We need to be testing more Floridians, faster.

Otherwise, we're flying blind when it comes to tracing contacts of the infected, targeting limited treatment resources and getting our hospitals ready for the inevitable tsunami of COVID-19 patients.

This editorial is a collaboration of the editorial boards of the USA TODAY Network-Florida.

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