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UWF Hosts Mobile COVID-19 Testing Site

University of West Florida

No appointment for coronavirus testing? No problem.

Eleven mobile testing sites are deploying statewide, including one at the University of West Florida, which is the tenth to go up.

Friday was – what’s known in these parts – as a “chamber of commerce” day with sunshine and warm temperatures. The testing began around nine o’clock this morning, with around 50 vehicles initially in line at the opening. Testing continues until five o’clock each day.

“We’re fitted to [test] 400 people a day; every day the goal is 400 people,” said Craig McKinney, the team leader for the group of nurses administering the nasal swabs. “[Friday] is kind of the dry run so there won’t be as many, we’re assuming. But if word gets out it may be up to 400 – we’ll see how it goes.”

Those to be tested stay in their cars while they go through a series of tents set up in the parking lot.  

“First tent, they identify the person as a Florida resident; 2nd tent is they inform the patient exactly how the procedure’s going to be done and any health issues or health risks that might be associated with it,” said McKinney. “The 3rd tent is where they fill out the paperwork, [and] the 4th tent is where they administer the test.”

Test results generally will come back in about 48-72 hours. McKinney and his nursing team – in scrubs and personal protective equipment, or PPE, are working with a Florida National Guard unit from Bonifay.

“The National Guard has been great; they’ve set up everything for us,” said McKinney. “They got us all of our supplies; they’re here to assist us in any way necessary. Everybody’s been very friendly and very helpful. We’re very grateful for the help.”

“So we were initially started to come up with the general purpose support teams, to be able to aid in any way,” said Capt. Michael Ozemba, the C.O. of the 1153rd Cavalry Regiment — the “Dark Horses.”

The first community-based testing sites were started in South Florida, but Gov. Ron DeSantis, says Ozemba, saw a need for more to be able to reopen Florida.

“Today was supposed to be a ‘soft opening’ for first responders and their families,” Ozemba said. “But anybody that’s available and wants to come through and has their stuff to be able to confirm their residency, we’re going to allow them to go through.”

The mission, says Ozemba, is pretty much open-ended.

“It’s my understanding that the governor, the way he’s got it set up for reopening, is that these counties and these cities have to test a certain percentage of people and get those test results back before they can move on to the next phase. So, we’re here until they don’t need us anymore,” said Ozemba.

Handling events in a pandemic is a new challenge for the Guard. Ozemba – a 10-year member – says it’s a step away from how they usually serve — such as in the aftermath of a hurricane. 

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Coronavirus testing began Friday at the University of West Florida.

“Those missions consist of search and rescue, shelter missions; things of that nature," Ozemba said. “Here, being able to come to the medical training, all of our medical personal is really going to be our main effort. They’re going to be the ones to decide the operation to get these guys. The rest of these guys have been through certain training, whether it be swab training; filling out the vials, registration forms, stuff like that so they can get these tests turned in.”

“We really want Northwest Florida to be a big anchor goring forward; as we move into Phase-1, I wish I could just flip a switch and say, ‘We’re just going to be able to do it,’ but we’ve really go to be methodical about it; careful and prudent,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaking at the testing site at the UWF baseball/softball/soccer complex.

“At this point, we’ve gotten over 403,000 tests completed in the state of Florida; and so we’re going to continue to do that,” said the governor. “As you go into Phase-1, a lot of people – including me – believe that we need to have testing readily available. If someone goes to work and their employer wants them to test, you need a place to do that.”

Testing, said the governor, will ramp up as the state enters Phase-I of reopening, by allowing licensed pharmacists to administer COVID-19 tests – including three major chains in Florida.

“Walgreen’s just announced they’re opening nine drive-through sites in Florida, and they’re also going to have seven with antibody testing,” DeSantis said. “CVS has also said they’re going to open multiple sites. Walmart will have five drive-through sites across the state.”

Credit University of West Florida
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of the COVID-19 testing site at the University of West Florida.

Antibody testing of plasma from the blood of those surviving the coronavirus is being elevated to new heights, in the fight against the pandemic.

“To be able to do Cerro prevalence analysis and to be able to test health care workers and first responders,” said DeSantis. “If you have the antibodies that means you had the disease. And the thing about this disease I think we’ve learned about is: there’s far more people that have actually had it, than have simply tested positive.”

Also on Friday, Gov. DeSantis announced that beginning Monday, state parks will re-open access to trails and certain day-use areas. That includes some beach access with limited facilities. Visitors will be asked to practice proper social distancing — limiting group size to 10 or fewer and staying six feet apart.