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Tropicana Field reaches capacity early on first day of coronavirus testing

The new BayCare site tested about 600 people. It will be open through Thursday this week, then five days a week in the future

ST. PETERSBURG — Hundreds of cars lined up outside Tropicana Field Monday morning for the stadium’s first day of COVID-19 testing, but the site reached capacity shortly after 8 a.m.

Cars arrived before sunrise, drivers eager to learn whether they had contracted the novel coronavirus. But others were turned away a couple hours later when officials closed the line for the day.

BayCare Health Systems, which launched drive-thru testing sites throughout Tampa Bay in March, announced the opening of the new Pinellas County site last week following the sudden closure of its Carillon office park location.

Nurses tests one of 600 motorists at parking lot 2, at Tropicana Field, Monday. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

Testing is first-come, first-served, with a daily cap based on supplies. Other drive-thru sites, like one at Raymond James Stadium, use an appointment system to help avoid long lines.

Police shut down the access point at 16th Street and First Avenue South around 8 a.m., BayCare spokeswoman Joni James said. Everyone who was inside the boundary was tested by 9:20 a.m.

James said about 600 people were tested. Officials said last week that daily capacity would fluctuate based on the availability of COVID-19 testing supplies and the ability to process results quickly so people aren’t waiting too long for results.

“We are working to do as much as we can to serve the community,” James said. “BayCare every week has increased capacity for testing.”

Related: BayCare will open COVID-19 testing site at Tropicana Field Monday

Results from the tests are expected in three to four days.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said via Twitter on Monday morning that leaders are working with the state to bring additional testing to the area. He mentioned opening another site in the city with Saturday and evening hours.

“The testing capacity is disappointing,” Kriseman tweeted.

The Tropicana Field site replaced BayCare’s drive-thru at Carillon office park, which closed unexpectedly earlier this week following complaints from nearby businesses about long car lines. The site, which had operated for 14 weeks, saw demand triple in one week. More than 700 people were tested in its final two days of operation.

“We knew the demand was out there,” James said. “We’re glad we’re able to provide this service at a place now that’s maybe less disruptive to neighbors.”

The Tropicana Field site will open at 7 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday this week and will be closed Friday, July 3, in observance of Independence Day. In coming weeks, the site will be open 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday.

Related: Here’s where to get tested for COVID-19 in the Tampa Bay area

Testing is set up in Lot 2 on the west side of the stadium off 16th Street South. Cars will be directed to enter the drive-thru site from an entrance on 3rd Avenue South.

People stay in their car for the test, which involves a medical professional leaning in the window to collect a sample from the patient’s nose using a long swab. The experience is said to be short and uncomfortable but not painful.

A doctor’s referral is encouraged. Otherwise, people will be screened on-site based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

For patients without insurance, the cost of the COVID-19 lab test is $85. Payment is not due at testing. BayCare is working with government agencies to secure funding for patients who are unable to pay.

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