COVID-19 cases are continuing to grow – and so are the lines to get tested for it.
According to Florida Department of Health data, more than 19,000 tests were performed in Pinellas County between June 18 and 24, 14.5 percent of which were positive. The numbers represent a sharp contrast from the same week in April when just over 1,500 tests were done. Only 7.3 percent of those tests were positive.
As more people seek tests, long lines are forming outside testing sites – and it’s forced some of them to make changes. On Monday, BayCare Health System announced it was moving its Carillon drive-through collection site due to disruptions to other businesses located in the same office complex. The testing site has seen demand more than triple over the previous week.
“We don’t want to do this, but we need to find a better location,” said BayCare’s Chief Operating Officer Glenn Waters. “We need to find a place where we can increase capacity but also have a safe environment for our patients, our team members and the public.”
BayCare’s drive-through sites, which are also operating in Polk and Pasco Counties, serve patients with a doctor’s referral or those who are symptomatic. People who show up without a doctor’s referral are screened based on CDC guidelines.
During a press conference in Tampa Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said BayCare will be doing a test site at Tropicana Field. BayCare has not yet announced the new site.
In a statement released after Thursday’s press conference, BayCare officials said they’re “very glad to have the governor’s support” as they look to relocate their Pinellas drive-through test collection site. The statement also said “we are not yet operational and are still hard at work with several local government partners to get the new site ready.” More details will be released once they are confirmed.
Advent Health currently doesn’t have any community testing sites, said corporate communications director Richelle Hoenes. However, the staff is assisting at testing sites when needed. They’re also operating a hotline (1-877-VIRUS HQ) that people can call to get screened and referred to a community site if necessary.
“The most important thing we want people to know is that the ER is not a testing site,” she said.
Tampa General Hospital’s Fast Track urgent care centers are also experiencing a sharp increase in the number of people coming in for tests, said TGH spokesman Phil Buck.
“The first 25 people seen each day at these locations are guaranteed an evaluation,” Buck said, “But they’re not necessarily guaranteed a test.”
The decision of whether someone receives a test is made on a case-to-case basis depending on individual risk, exposures, symptoms and situations, Buck explained.
“In many cases, patients are coming in and requesting tests when they are low-risk or not eligible based on the timing of their potential exposure,” he said. “If you don’t have symptoms, we recommend waiting at least three to four days before getting tested.”
Assistance may soon be on the way for overburdened test sites. The state will be receiving a $33.8 million FEMA grant that will cover costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of that money will go toward increased testing, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said in a statement.
To find a testing site near you, visit https://covid19.pinellascounty.org/testing/.