Appointment-only COVID-19 testing site opens in Lakeland

The city of Lakeland's first drive-thru testing site for COVID-19 opened Monday at the RP Funding Center. 

On its first day, five people were tested. Officials said they'll be able to test about 75 people per day at the drive-through location, but on its first day, only five were tested. Officials suspect the low turnout was due to severe weather passing through the Bay Area.

“Due to weather, and this was our first day, we believe this was a very successful day,” said Stacey Bolton, Lakeland Regional’s Chief Information Officer.

As with other sites that have opened up in the Tampa Bay area, it is by appointment only. Testing will be for suspected coronavirus cases only, meaning for those showing symptoms of the virus or those who may have been exposed.

RELATED: Track Florida coronavirus cases by county with this interactive COVID-19 map

Those operating the new drive-through testing site hope speed of testing and getting results will help Polk County officials determine the real scope of the pandemic's impact in the area. 

“The average patient went through in eight to nine minutes, start to finish, from registration to getting swabbed to getting instructions and leaving,” commented Dr. Hal Escowitz, Chief Quality Officer at Lakeland Regional during a virtual interview.

Escowitz says most people will have to wait about a week to get their results, but it is not unusual lately days for results to come back in as little as two days.

The health center has a limited number of hard to get tests that yield results in just a few hours, but they are kept for the patients who are the most severely ill.

Elsewhere around the state and country, drive through test sites have been slammed, and people have had to wait hours to be tested.

“Right now, testing supplies are limited, testing capabilities are limited,” said Escowitz.

Patients will need a referral for testing by their doctors. Escowitz says they are loosely following CDC guidelines for testing.

“We try to somewhat liberal with those guidelines actually with people with poor immune systems, pregnant mothers or things along those lines,” he said.

He says one of the keys to getting the pandemic under control is testing. Only 1% of the state’s population has undergone testing. Roughly 1 in 10 of those tested have been found to have the virus, according to the latest data from the Florida Department of Health. About 5,100 people have been tested so far in Polk County. There are over 330 people who have tested positive for coronavirus in the county, which is about six percent of those tested.

READ: How many in Florida have recovered from coronavirus?

City officials announced the opening of the drive-thru testing site Friday, saying it is in conjunction with Lakeland Regional Health. The site will be open weekdays and is located at the RP Funding Center parking lot, located at 701 West Lime Street. Patients will need to follow the signs for check-in, registration and swabbing stops. 

Officials say the entire process should take about 15 minutes. It will stay open while testing supplies last. 

Three more drive-through test sites are scheduled to open in Sarasota this week.

In order to make an appointment, patients can have their providers fax or email an order for testing to Lakeland Regional Hospital. The fax number is 863-687-1106 and the email address is If someone does not have a primary care physician and suspect they may be infected with COVID-19, they can call Lakeland Regional Health's new COVID-19 Telehealth Service. 

The Telehealth appointment does have a doctor's fee attached to it. It's not a free evaluation. Even though many healthcare providers have access to testing, Lakeland Regional said they created this site because not everyone does. 

LINK: For more information head over to Lakeland Regional Health's website.

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.

LINKFlorida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know


Map of known COVID-19 cases:

MOBILE APP USERS: Click here for map