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TAMPA — The COVID-19 testing site at Raymond James Stadium booked all of its available 900 appointments a little over 48 hours after launching its call center, Hillsborough County officials said Thursday.
That means unless someone has already been approved, they will not be able to get tested for the fast-spreading novel coronavirus at the community site that opened Wednesday morning, at least for now.
The stadium test site will shut down Friday once all 900 appointments have been completed. It will not reopen until the county receives more materials.
Medical and county officials warned earlier this week that the limited testing kits and protective gear supplied by the state would quickly be used up, leading the county to have to close the site.
County staff is hopeful it can reopen a community test site as supplies become available, but when that might happen and how many the county might receive remains unknown.
There was talk of using the Florida State Fairgrounds as a community test site, which would allow easier access for people in the eastern and southern parts of the county. But County Administrator Mike Merrill shot down that notion Thursday, saying there aren’t enough resources to run multiple sites right now.
Merrill said the county would continue to use Raymond James Stadium as its testing site unless it receives “a significantly larger number of test kits and personal protection equipment.”
“Otherwise, we’re just diluting the effort and wasting precious resources,” Merrill said.
Hillsborough County Emergency Management Coordinator Tim Dudley said the county put in an order with the state for 15,000 test kits. An additional 50,000 kits were requested from the University of South Florida and other healthcare facilities.
That number is a staggering increase for a county that has only received 900 kits so far. Merrill stressed that those 65,000 kits are only a request. There is no assurance that the county will receive them, let alone that the state and other providers even have access to that many nasal swabs and other materials.
“We have a desire, obviously, like everybody does, to have a lot more testing kits,” Merrill said. “That doesn’t mean there are 50,000 test kits available today, tomorrow or next week.”
Medical professionals used the materials the county does have to test 188 people Wednesday, the first day the site was open. Another 80 people were turned away because they did not meet qualifications.
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Those who have been pre-screened over the phone and given an appointment will continue to go to the stadium for testing through Friday. Once people arrive, they will have to show confirmation of their appointment and then will drive through a series of tents. Medical professionals in protective gear including gowns, gloves and masks are stationed at the last tent to collect a test specimen with a nasal swab.
Merrill said all tests are seeing about an 8-day turnaround period for results.
“If you have coronavirus symptoms, please contact your health care provider for further guidance on testing options,” read a statement from Hillsborough County. “If you are sick and unable to get tested, you should self-quarantine."
The statement from the county encouraged those who are quarantining to stay in a specific “sick room” if possible and away from other people in the home. People are encouraged to use a separate bathroom, if available, and clean high-touch surfaces often.
Meanwhile, BayCare Health Systems launched an online screening tool Wednesday at https://baycare.clearstep.health/covid19 to help people who are concerned about the virus check their symptoms. The screening is based on protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is open to everyone.
“The purpose of this screener is to help you make decisions about seeking appropriate medical care,” a notification at the start of the online tool reads. “This system is not intended for the diagnosis or treatment of disease or other conditions, including COVID-19.”
The test functions like a web chat where people answer 10 automated questions, such as whether they have a fever, if they’re older than 65 or if they’ve traveled outside of the country or domestically within the last two weeks. The tool then issues a recommendation, such as telling someone they do not require testing at this time but encouraging them to self-isolate for 14 days.
The screening tool is available on any digital device or smartphone using web browsers like Google Chrome or Safari. It does not work with Internet Explorer.
For more information from Hillsborough County, call 813-272-5900 or visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org. • • •
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