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Coronavirus Testing Still Accessible In Hillsborough Despite Increased Demand, Official Says

Raymond James Testing Nov 2020
Stephanie Colombini
People who drove to Raymond James Stadium for a coronavirus test early Friday morning waited about 90 minutes, but they got their results in about 20 minutes.

Residents have more options besides public testing sites now, which officials say is helping the county meet rising demand.

As coronavirus cases rise in Florida, more people are seeking tests in Hillsborough County. But officials say they are able to meet the demand.

“We have seen an increase in demand, but just to put that in perspective, it is nowhere near what it was several months back," said Jon-Paul Lavandeira, who leads the task force running the county’s COVID-19 testing sites. "Several months back it was human waves and now it’s more manageable.”

Over the summer when the state was regularly reporting more than 10,000 cases a day, with a peak of about 15,000, it could take weeks for a Hillsborough County resident to get a testing appointment, and weeks more to get the results.

Lavandeira said a key difference now is that residents have more options.

“People don't have to think that, ‘Oh God, I have to go to Raymond James Stadium or bust,’” he said. “Now you can go to your local Walgreens, CVS, doctors’ offices, MedExpresses, etc.”

Know your options

Many private locations require appointments, as do some sites run by Hillsborough County. The visits themselves are typically brief, but residents may not be able to schedule an appointment for a few days.

Scheduling for county-run sites was down on Friday due to office closures for Veterans’ Day and Tropical Storm Eta.

But unlike during the summer surge when a phone call to the county hotline could involve waiting an hour on hold, a representative answered immediately on Friday afternoon. She explained the situation and offered the state-supported sites as alternative options until next week.

State-supported sites like Raymond James Stadium are first-come, first-serve.

Cars lined up outside Raymond James Stadium's COVID-19 testing site.
Stephanie Colombini
The line of cars Friday morning stretched down Himes Ave. before snaking around cones on a field next to the stadium.

Hundreds of cars were there on Friday morning around 8:30 a.m., shortly after opening. The line near the Himes Avenue entrance stretched around the block, but moved quicker than it looked. Cars arriving at that time waited about 90 minutes to get tested, still not ideal for anyone with work or family commitments to return to.

But results for the rapid antigen test offered at the stadium came back in about 20 minutes.

Other places in the community offer rapid tests, with some charging a fee. Walgreens provides them to eligible patients for free at certain locations in the region. BayCare announced on Friday some of its urgent care sites would start offering one for $150.

Many sites, like those run by Hillsborough County, use PCR tests. These are more sensitive, thus considered more accurate than rapid tests, but results usually take a couple days and in worse cases, many days to come back.

Hillsborough has fewer county-run sites now than it did a few months ago, having shut down some sites due to low demand. Lavandeira said while there is an increased need for testing with this recent spike, he doesn’t believe the county needs to open more sites yet.

"That being said all options are on the table, so if a significant upward trend continues, God forbid, we do have options in place,” he said. “We do have contingency plans to mobilize more sites and more options for folks."

Lavandeira said no matter where residents go to get a test they can expect to be asked to share some personal information, either in written forms for staff members or through online accounts. He encourages them to be as accurate as possible when registering for testing so that health workers can contact them with results efficiently.

The county is also working with community groups to help bring testing to those who have no way of getting to the county’s drive-thru or walk-up sites.

More information can be found on Hillsborough County's COVID-19 webpage or by calling 888-513-6321.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.