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COVID-19 Testing Resumes in Escambia County

A nurse administers a test at a drive-through COVID-19 coronavirus testing station, set up by the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.

Pensacola may offer incentives to get vaccinated

After a six-month hiatus, testing for the coronavirus is being has resumed in Escambia County as the numbers in the Pensacola area remain down, according to Mayor Grover Robinson.

“Back in January we temporarily suspended our COVID-19 testing; at that time, testing was pretty available in the community and we needed to turn our focus to our contact tracing and new vaccination efforts,” said Marie Mott, administrator at the Florida Department of Health in Escambia.

As vaccinations began to increase, and positivity rates began to decline, the need for testing appeared to decrease as well.

“That was followed by closure and reduction of services of several testing sites in our area,” Mott said. “So what we’re trying to do now is kind of meet the rising need in the community for testing, by offering testing at no cost.”

The resumption comes amid reports of the Delta variant of COVID becoming the predominant strain of the disease. But Mott said other reasons are also at work.

“The resumption of testing services is really mainly to make sure that people who want or need to get tested have access to as many opportunities to be tested as possible,” she said.

“The Delta variant is already responsible for half of all cases in many parts of this country,” said President Joe Biden, speaking last week. “Millions of Americans are still unvaccinated and unprotected. And because of that, their communities are at risk; their friends are at risk; [and] the people they care about are at risk.”

The president is urging — again — Americans to roll up their sleeves and get the shots, citing an even bigger concern because of the Delta variant, which health officials say is now found in all 50 states.

“It seems to me, that this should cause everybody to think twice,” Biden said. “And it should cause reconsideration, especially young people — who may have thought that they didn’t have to be vaccinated — didn’t have to worry about it and didn’t have to do anything about it up to now. But the good news is, that our vaccinations are highly effective – including against this Delta variant.”

“According to the Florida Department of Health, for the week of July 10, we had a positivity rate of 10%,” said the mayor. “The city is no longer tracking hospitalizations, but we have not exceeded 50 combined hospitalizations for more than three weeks.”

Speaking at this weekly news conference Monday, Robinson said the city remains in contact with healthcare providers, in case of an increase or other significant COVID event. For now, he adds, perhaps the most important issue is getting the vaccinated.

“Even though people are continuing to get COVID-19, we are seeing fewer and fewer significantly adverse cases; even if hospitalizations are certainly worse [and] fatalities, both of those are a combination of us just seeing more individuals vaccinated,” Robinson said. “And I think it’s something that we will continue to work at and try to get more people vaccinated.”

To that end, money may talk the loudest. The mayor is asking the Pensacola City Council to offer $100 to each unvaccinated resident who agrees to get their shots. The funds would come from the city’s $19 million grant from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.

“If there’s a way we can entice them to do it, then we’re gonna try that,” he said. “We’re using the free market system — we’re not gonna force anybody to do anything. I think the free market system is incredibly good. So if you can give somebody an incentive, and that’s exactly what the federal government told us to do with some of these things. So, we’re bringing that forward.”

Those wishing to be tested, says DOH Escambia’s Marie Mott, will need an appointment to visit the health department every Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“People can schedule an appointment by calling (850) 595-6554; testing is available for all ages, all people, whether or not they have symptoms,” said Marie Mott at DOH. “And we continue to offer same-day COVID vaccine appointments and walk-in appointments to eligible persons – and those are Monday through Friday, from 8 to 4.”

More information is available at escambiahealth.com.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.