Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, testing has been a topic of recurring questions. Who qualifies to be tested? Why are some areas testing only those with certain symptoms while others offer tests to anyone who requests one? When will more tests be available?
The answers are complicated.
The Florida Department of Health provides tests under certain criteria, based on guidelines for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When testing began, there was a shortage of test kits. As more test kits have become available, the criteria for testing has broadened, but the DOH tests are still limited.
The state has put additional testing resources in the more populated areas with the highest numbers of positive cases. Gov. Ron DeSantis has sent the National Guard to assist with testing in some areas of the state that have seen a lot of COVID-19 positive cases. The criteria for testing at these sites varies.
Under the direction of the governor, the state now also has 50 “strike teams” of nurses who will test patients and staff at nursing homes. One of these strike teams helped test the patients and staff at Okeechobee Health Care Facility on Friday.
At his April 24 press conference, Gov. DeSantis explained, “We know nursing homes have been number one places at risk.” He said the three state labs will test samples collected by the 50 strike teams, which each have four nurses.
These teams have already done 5,000 tests, he said. “We will see that number increase.”
He said the state labs have been processing hundreds of tests per day, but he realizes the state needs faster testing.
“We have contracted with labs that can do high-volume testing, can do 18,000 a day,” he said. These labs will provide test results in 24 to 48 hours.
He said the Florida Department of Health has also ordered high throughput machines, which should arrive in May.
“By the summer, we would like to have that set up,” he said.
He said the state surgeon general will also give pharmacies the authority the authority to administer COVID-19 tests. He said they are working out the details on that plan.
“That could be a convenient way for people to have access to testing,” he said.
In addition, the state has ordered FDA-approved antibody tests, which will show if a person had the virus and has recovered. The governor said the first shipment is due May 1.
For testing at any of the current sites in South Central Florida, appointments are necessary. In Okeechobee, Hendry and Glades counties, patients are screened to meet criteria for testing. For information or to make an appointment, call your health care provider or your county health department.
In Palm Beach County, tests are offered even for those with no symptoms, but appointments are still necessary.
In Okeechobee County, tests are available at the Okeechobee Health Department, the Dr. Fred Brown Center, 2015 U.S. 441 and Okeechobee Urgent Care, 305 N.E. Park Street. Raulerson Hospital, 796 U.S. 441, tests only those admitted to the hospital. Commercial labs can also do the test if the doctor orders it. Call the health department or your health care provider to find out more about testing.
In Hendry County, testing is available in Clewiston at Florida Community Health Center, 315 South W.C. Owen Ave.; Forbes Family Medicine, 315 South W.C. Owen Ave.; Hendry Regional Medical Center, 524 W. Sagamore Ave.; and the Hendry County Health Department, 1100 S. Olympia Ave. Private physicians can put in a request into their Quest Diagnostics account to create a requisition. The appointment can then made through the health department for testing.
In LaBelle, tests are available at Hendry Convenient Care, 450 S Main St.; and the Hendry County Health Department, 1140 Pratt Blvd.
Glades County Department of Health advises residents are advised to contact their health care providers to arrange for testing.
Palm Beach County has been a hot spot for COVID-19; the state has sent extra help for testing.
In addition, Palm Beach County has a health care district financed by a special ad valorem tax. The Palm Beach County Health Care District is an independent taxing district created in 1988. The primary source of funding is property tax millage. The 2019-2020 millage of 0.7261 mills was projected to bring in $139,150,000. One mill equals $1 in tax for every $1,000 of property value.