Both the government-run drive-thru testing sites for COVID-19 in Miami-Dade County have specific restrictions as to who can get tested. Those include the site at Hard Rock Stadium and at Marlins Park. Besides first responders and healthcare workers, someone would need to be 65 or older to access testing at both sites.
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As of Sunday in Miami-Dade County, the epicenter of the state’s outbreak, a total of 229 people who are 65 or older had contracted COVID-19, according to state numbers. The exact same number of people between the ages of 25 and 34 have contracted the virus.
In total, far more confirmed cases in the county involve those under 65 than those over that age, including the first death in Miami-Dade County, a 40-year-old North Miami resident.
Yet the state and county government have been inconsistent about why the persistent age restriction is in place.
“Federally-supported testing sites, such as those at the Hard Rock Stadium, follows the guidelines set forth by the federal government,” the Joint Information Center on COVID-19 for the State of Florida said in a statement to WLRN. “The state will continue to follow these guidelines at the federal sites, unless otherwise directed by the federal government.”
On Sunday, the Florida Association of Public Information Officers tweeted a photo of an empty line at the Hard Rock Stadium testing site. The group is helping to manage the testing site.
“NO WAIT!” reads the tweet. “You must be a first responder or healthcare worker OR 65 and over.”
Besides the Hard Rock Stadium site, the only other federally-supported testing sites in the state are in Orlando and Jacksonville.
Notably, the Jacksonville site removed age restrictions last week.
“My team has been working our federal partners on expanding those eligible for testing at lot J. The age restriction will be removed. All ages can be tested,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry tweeted last week about the testing site. “The other criteria remain the same. You must have temperature of at least 99.6 and have respiratory issues.”
The average age of cases in Duval County, where the age restrictions have been removed, is 52, according to state data. The average age of cases in Miami-Dade and Broward counties is lower, at 48.
Miami-Dade County, which operates the site at Marlins Park, referred WLRN to the state for comment on why testing at the site is age restricted. The state says that it does not operate that site, and referred us back to the county, which has not responded to requests for comment.
The Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the age restrictions.
Out of the people who have died of COVID-19 in Florida since the outbreak began, the vast majority are over the age of 65. Only four of the 56 deaths involved people under that age. The youngest was a 39-year-old male from Lee County.
“The priority is for people 65 and older, but younger people are also getting tested at other sites,” said Dr. Maria Alcaide, an associate professor for infectious diseases at the University of Miami.
But she said as the the virus progresses, it is important for more younger people to get tested.
“Younger people can be more asymptomatic, and when they are asymptomatic they are also more likely to transmit the disease to others, because they don’t have the symptoms,” she said.