ST. PETERSBURG — A new free testing site opened on Wednesday in south St. Petersburg with the help of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo sent 7,500 tests to seed the site at Pinellas Community Church, 5501 31st St. S. Tests are by appointment only, but don’t require symptoms or exposure. And since appointments are required, the testing site doesn’t require those seeking a test to wait in line or come in a vehicle.
The governor also sent nursing staff, from New York City-based SOMOS Community Care, to run the site, and all kinds of personal protective equipment: 7,500 N95 masks, 7,500 gowns, 11,500 gloves, 120 goggles, 1,200 wipes and 7,500 face shields. Some of that equipment will stock the testing site, while the surplus will be distributed to St. Petersburg hospitals or even schools.
Pinellas Community Church is within 33712, one of the zip codes hardest hit by the novel coronavirus within the city. Pinellas County has logged more than 15,425 cases as of Tuesday night, according to a website tracking COVID-19 in the county. At least 750 of those are within the 33712 zip code.
Cuomo announced the donation during a Wednesday press conference, which was held by conference call and featured St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. The pair bantered during call, each calling the other a friend. Cuomo told Kriseman he had to try some of the 1,250 gallons of “our New York, clean, special hand sanitizer” that came with the donation.
“You try that hand sanitizer mayor, your hands will never be the same, I promise you that,” Cuomo joked with Kriseman. “It will kill the COVID virus, and it will give you a special tingling sensation.”
The pair lauded one another for their leadership: Kriseman thanked Cuomo for the “factual, concise communication” that has earned the governor nationwide praise during the pandemic, while the governor praised the mayor for being among the first in Florida to enact safer-at-home and mask orders.
The donation by the New York Democrat followed a promise he made when his state was the worldwide epicenter of COVID-19. He asked the public for help, and doctors and nurses from all over appeared in droves to work in New York emergency rooms.
“It was one of the really powerful experiences of my life,” Cuomo said during the call. “I was so shocked at the generosity, the courage, the love that people showed. I said at that time, ‘I can’t express the gratitude, and that we would be there for you.’”
His office called St. Petersburg officials last week, said Kevin King, the city’s chief of policy and public engagement. Cuomo’s office said they wanted to set up a testing site that specifically focused on a community that has been disproportionately impacted by the virus.
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In addition to the supplies, Cuomo’s office asked St. Petersburg officials to poll hospitals for any specialty equipment they need, King said.The New York donation includes 10 ventilators bound for Bayfront Health St. Petersburg and iPads for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital to facilitate remote doctors appointments.
“You did exactly what you said you were going to do,” Kriseman said to Cuomo. “And that’s not something that a lot of politicians, unfortunately, do.”
He added: “I have to say thank you, thank you, thank you.”
The new testing site will be able to provide up to 500 tests per day, and will be open through at least 5 p.m. Saturday. People can make an appointment by calling 833-697-4352 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
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