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Florida’s tropical weather and COVID-19 test sites don’t mix

Winds of up to 40 mph close 14 testing sites in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Brevard counties.
A local St. Petersburg resident gets tested for COVID-19 testing during a free drive-up and walk-up testing site coordinated by the Florida Department of Health Pinellas County on Saturday May 2, 2020 at the Frank H Pierce Recreation Center at Bartlett Park.
A local St. Petersburg resident gets tested for COVID-19 testing during a free drive-up and walk-up testing site coordinated by the Florida Department of Health Pinellas County on Saturday May 2, 2020 at the Frank H Pierce Recreation Center at Bartlett Park. [ Boyzell Hosey ]
Published May 15, 2020

Florida emergency management officials said they will close 14 state-run COVID-19 test sites on Friday and reopen them Monday due to a low-pressure weather system that is forecast to produce wind gusts of up to 40 miles per hour, lightning and thunderstorms with heavy rain.

State officials said they will close 10 drive-thru testing sites and four walk-up locations in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Brevard counties, including the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Marlins Stadium in Little Havana and additional sites at the Miami Beach Convention Center and Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah.

Two drive-up sites in Broward County, CB Smith Park in Pembroke Pines and the War Memorial in Fort Lauderdale, will close along with two walk-up sites, Mitchell Moore Park and the Urban League.

The closures come at a time when Florida was testing 16,000 to 24,000 persons a day, according to state estimates. Florida’s percentage of new positive tests has ranged from 2% to 5% over the past two weeks.

Closing sites in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach — the counties with the highest numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the state — likely will suppress the number of new COVID-19 infections found because those sites provide hundreds of free tests a day.

Helen Aguirre Ferré, communications director for Gov. Ron DeSantis, said on Twitter that closing the sites was the right move for the state.

“With possible wind gusts of 40 mph, it is best for public safety to reopen on Monday. It’s also common sense,” Ferré said.

The unseasonably early disturbance passing through the Florida Straits is expected to bring wet and windy weather — as well as a rip current — to South Florida through Friday and Saturday.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center predict the disturbance has a 70% chance of strengthening into Arthur, the season’s first tropical depression or storm, in the next two days.

Chuck Caracozza, a forecaster with the Miami office of the National Weather Service, said it appears conditions will improve over the weekend as the system heads northeast, he said.

“It looks like on Saturday things will still be breezy but it’ll be on the way out,” Caracozza said. ”Sunday is looking pretty dry. At that point this thing should be far enough away that it’ll be pretty dry.”

Nonetheless, Jason Mahon, communications director for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, which oversees the state-run testing sites, said officials will need time to break down and set up tables, tents and other equipment at the locations.

He noted that the state’s announcement said the sites will be closed through Sunday “to allow staff to set up the sites after the conditions have passed.”

Ferré said that even if conditions were to let up on Saturday, lightning would pose a danger to the Florida National Guard setting up tents outside. She said larger sites especially will take a long time to set back up.

“It’s not like setting up a picnic table,” Ferré said, adding that it would take about four hours to set up Hard Rock alone, not to mention four other sites in the county that would need to be set up during daylight hours.

Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease specialist at Florida International University, said the university’s testing collection site will be closed Friday due to the weather as well. It will reopen Saturday.

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