Amidst delays, Hillsborough opens new call center for COVID-19 test appointments

As the coronavirus spreads rapidly through Bay Area communities, lines are long at testing sites, with many closing early because they’ve reached capacity.

The county has been telling folks to call and make an appointment before showing up to a testing site, but officials say they just realized the number residents were told to call if they have a general complaint is the same number thousands of people have been calling to make an appointment for COVID-19 testing.

Now they’re trying to spread the word about a new phone number, 888-513-6321, that could help ease the wait times.

Hillsborough County officials also talked Wednesday about making changes at the Davis Community Center testing site in Tampa starting Thursday that they hope will make things easier.

RELATED: Over 5,500 new Florida coronavirus cases reported; record daily increase

Meanwhile, a lot of folks who are showing symptoms are being required to present their employer with a negative test result just to return to work.

One woman told FOX 13 News she spent hours, both on the phone and driving around, trying to get tested.

“I went to TGH Urgent Care, the hospital here in Riverview, WellMed, I tried CVS, a local urgent care here in Apollo Beach, and then my parent’s doctor’s office,” Megan Prevatt told FOX 13.

Her journey doesn’t include the time she spent trying to make an appointment over the phone with Hillsborough County.

“Every time I would call, I would just be on hold, and then my call would get dropped, and I’d hear dial tones,” she said.

RELATED: A breakdown of mask mandates in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco

In all, Prevatt says she has logged at least eight hours since Monday trying to get tested for COVID-19. She was even turned away by her local emergency room.

“The lady told me if I’m not blue in the lips or I can’t breathe, or she can tell I can’t breathe, then I need to go and make an appointment to go get tested. So they turned me away, too,” she said.

Starting Thursday, a new call center line will be open in Hillsborough solely for appointments. The county says it is also going to set up an online scheduling system, but did not say when it would be ready.

“It allows for folks to schedule themselves online. They don’t have to talk to an operator or go through being on hold. They can have their information at the ready, and login,” explained Jon-Paul Lavandeira, with operations and logistics for Hillsborough County COVID-19 testing.

MORE: Hillsborough coronavirus-testing system employee tests positive for COVID-19

Lavandeira says wait times are made worse by people showing up to testing sites without appointments, which has been a problem in Manatee and Sarasota counties, too.

In St. Petersburg, BayCare shut down its drive-through site at Carillon Tuesday when traffic at the testing site started to impact the nearby businesses. They hope to announce a testing location soon.

Lavandeira says he is not trying to downplay people’s frustrations, but that he believes these two changes for Hillsborough -- the call center number and online scheduling portal -- will be the changes needed to make testing work.

The number to make a testing appointment in Hillsborough County is 888-513-6321.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know


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