State and local officials are trying to get the word out to the public that anyone who wants a coronavirus test can get one now.
They have lifted restrictions on symptoms and travel history that were previously in place to ensure supplies got prioritized for those most in-need.
Speaking at a press conference at Tampa General Hospital on Monday morning, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state has enough supplies to test more people and is continuing to expand capacity.
He said state-run drive-thru testing sites have not been reaching capacity, and said the state has contracted private labs to do an additional 18,000 tests a day. DeSantis also opened the door for pharmacists and places like CVS and Walgreens to conduct their own tests.
He is encouraging people to get tested even if they don't have symptoms because they could still be carrying the virus.
"We think it’s important not only for individuals’ health to know whether they're positive or not, but also for professionals to understand the prevalence of this throughout the community,” he said.
The latter task is essential to safely reopen the economy, according to Dr. Charles Lockwood, dean of the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine and senior vice president of USF Health.
He said widespread testing is one of the necessary elements to shifting public health efforts from mitigating the damage of the current coronavirus outbreak to containing the spread of new ones.
Lockwood said estimates indicate health workers would need to test 150 people per day for every 100,000 people in the community.
“To do that in Hillsborough County we need to test 2,250 patients a day,” he said. “We’re testing between 500 and 1,000, so we need to test a lot more folks.”
DeSantis’ comments encouraging all to get tested applied to state-run testing sites, but some municipalities are making similar decisions to loosen requirements.
During a Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group meeting Monday afternoon, county emergency management director Tim Dudley said officials may not have the equipment to test as many people as Dr. Lockwood is suggesting just yet, but they can test more people than they are right now.
“Right now we’re just not seeing that mass rush to these collection sites,” said Dudley, referring to the drive-thru testing sites at Raymond James Stadium, Lee Davis Community Resource Center, Plant City Community Resource Center and SouthShore Community Resource Center. He said some people have even signed up for appointments and then not shown up.
The county is encouraging all who want to get tested to contact 813-272-5900 to pre-register (warning: the phone line is often overburdened). A county spokesman said testing involves paperwork and per-day resources could still run out so people are not encouraged to just show up without an appointment.
Some privately-run testing sites may still have stricter requirements. For example, BayCare Health System is continuing to limit drive-thru testing to symptomatic patients with doctors’ referrals in order to manage its supplies.
Floridians should contact the testing site they’re interested in visiting ahead of time to clarify what their requirements are to receive one.
Health officials are also urging residents in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk, and Manatee counties to fill out a survey that USF is using to track areas in the region where people are reporting symptoms related to COVID-19. Respondents’ personal information will not be shared, but officials say the survey helps them identify potential hot spots so they can redirect additional testing resources there.
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CORONAVIRUS: Complete Coverage From WUSF Public Media And Health News Florida