The rates of positive results from COVID-19 tests being conducted throughout all the counties in the Lake Okeechobee region are curiously out of whack with each other, and after five solid months do not seem to be approaching any sort of equilibrium or middle ground. From top to bottom in those rankings among the five counties in the Lake O area, the range is fully 23 percentage points.
Brenda Barnes, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health in Hendry and Glades Counties, said much of the variation in COVID-19 positivity rates by county is due to the widely varying numbers of people who have been tested in each county. Also, Glades being such a sprawling yet lightly populated place, its number of coronavirus tests done lags far behind those of the more populated Hendry, Okeechobee, Palm Beach and Martin counties.
As of the Aug. 10 FDOH COVID-19 testing reports for counties around the lake, in order of highest to lowest, the rates were:
• Glades, 35.8% positive of 1,132 tests;
• Hendry, 21.3% positive of 8,386 tests;
• Okeechobee, 15.9% positive of 6,627 tests;
• Martin, 14.9% positive of 25,758 tests; and
• Palm Beach, 13.2% positive of 282,189 tests.
Why the range? Part of it is due to fewer available testing kits of the various types. But Barnes believes it is somewhat a matter of attitudes, too.
Testing kits are plentiful
There’s no shortage of COVID-19 testing kits in Hendry and Glades counties, said Barnes.
“We do offer testing every week in Glades County at the health department,” she said, “and if (someone) wants to get tested during the week we can even make arrangements, or Florida Community Health Center in Glades County offers the testing by appointment. So the opportunity for testing is there.”
There will be a special offering of testing this coming Saturday, Aug. 15, from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m., to give residents who are employed outside Glades County an additional chance to be tested during non-business hours.
“We’re offering testing to try to accommodate the working people, to see if that will help,” said Barnes.
Making the appointment over the phone (863-946-0707) is simple, fast and easy, and taking the coronavirus test (via nasopharyngeal probe) is even quicker, and quite painless. Afterward, it’s a gently stated “We’ll give you a call within three to five business days, OK?” and you’re done. Two minutes, in and out, at the Health Department off State Road 78 just north of U.S. 27.
Testing numbers still low
Glades County just exceeded 1,000 tests administered inside the county, late last week. As of Tuesday, it was up to 1,134.
Asked whether it might be a transportation problem for Glades residents, considering it can be a 30-mile or more drive from one end of the county to the other, Barnes was doubtful.
“We’re not sure. I don’t think it’s a transportation issue. I know that Florida Community Health Centers has done a couple of testing sites along with food distribution … I don’t know if it’s just the population of Glades,” she said.
“In rural communities, people tend to take care of themselves. Maybe they just don’t want to go get tested. But that’s why we continue to offer testing.”
Barnes added: “I know in the near future we’re going to try to do targeted areas — maybe have a testing team go out in the Buckhead Ridge area, Muse, the Palmdale area, Ortona area, to see if that will help the people that would like to get tested.”
The reason they do the testing by appointment is if they didn’t, they’d never know how many folks might show up to be tested, which could overburden staff.
“We have even tested people in Clewiston and LaBelle in addition to Moore Haven just to help out,” Barnes said.
Dr. Joe Pepe, health officer for the FDOH in Glades and Hendry Counties, was unavailable Tuesday for comment because he was making a presentation before the Glades County School Board.