UF Med Students Organize Free COVID Tests In At-Risk Neighborhood
People living in southwest Gainesville hadn’t had access to free COVID-19 tests right in their neighborhood since the pandemic began.
That changed on Saturday with an event at the Southwest Advocacy Group Family Resource Center, popularly known as SWAG.
The event started at 9 a.m. and had 200 tests available to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis. Unfortunately, the day featured a typical Gainesville forecast for September: A rainy morning.
Still, the weather did not force a cancellation, 80 people got tested, and volunteers stayed at the site until the tents could no longer hold up.
“I definitely think the weather took a big part in the outcome of the event,” said Joseph Calpin, a medical student at UF and the event’s lead coordinator. “It is still 80 more tested people than it would have been without the event.”
The remaining 120 tests will not go unused. They were returned to a Florida Department of Health nurse to be repurposed in the near future for other events.
“We still plan to organize another two to three testing events in the area according to demand,” Calpin said.
He said it was a good experience to finally be of assistance to the Southwest community, and he was glad to have been able to provide testing and educate this in-need community about the virus.
The site included one walk-up and three drive-through tents, all located at the parking lot in front of the SWAG Center. It’s an accessible and popular location for people who live nearby, and they were the target population for the event.
Neither appointments nor documentation was required to get a test. The organizers asked no questions.
Results were provided within two to three days online, and anyone who tested positive was contacted by LabCorp to ensure the necessary measures were taken. Calpin said Wednesday he had not heard how many of the 80 tests came back positive, as the health department doesn’t typically break results down publicly by date and site.
This rapid and efficient testing outcome is essential in preventing an excessive spread of the virus, oftentimes through asymptomatic patients, and ensure the health safety of the community.
Calpin had organized other successful COVID-19 testing events in some of Alachua County’s poorest areas since the virus outbreak in March.
Previous testing events took place over the summer in East Gainesville and featured nearly 2,000 tests.
All events were funded by the Alachua County Department of Health, which fully supported the initiative from the start by providing all testing kits to be distributed with no charge to Gainesville locals.
The need for Saturday’s event was brought up by SWAG workers who reached out to Dr. Grant Harrell, medical director and leader of Mobile Outreach Clinic at UF.
The Saturday event was organized by 12 volunteers from UF’s College of Medicine performing the tests; a nurse from the health department responsible for quality control; SWAG members, and sheriff’s deputies directing traffic.
Both Dr. Harrell and Calpin said to be extremely thankful for the support from all involved, as they “couldn’t have done it without the whole team’s dedication.”
Safety measures were taken at all times: masks were required and social distancing enforced.
As there were no questions asked, there is no official data regarding each patient’s reason for getting tested, but the popular word at the site was that most were there just to make sure they weren’t positive but asymptomatic.
Dr. Harrell encourages that sort of thoughtful caution.
“If you want to get tested, you should be able to,” Dr. Harrell said. “Mostly if you think you have been exposed, were in a crowded place, or have contact with high-risk people.”
Rapid testing is the best way to help contain the virus with the currently available resources, so he emphasizes the importance of encouraging anyone to get tested and to have the resources necessary to make testing available to all.