Hillsborough, Pinellas take steps to expand COVID-19 testing

Hillsborough County says, before their COVID-19 hotline launched this week, wait times to make an appointment surpassed an hour.

“We’re down to a point where our longest wait for today was only 14 minutes, and on average for today, we’re answering calls in about a minute,” said Jennifer Hall, the call center manager.

Hillsborough admitted Wednesday that the phone line residents had been calling for months was, in fact, the main county complaint line.

“Folks trying to get a COVID appointment were competing with folks complaining about a pot hole, or an animal control issue,” said Jon Paul Lavandeira, who runs operations for Hillsborough County COVID-19 testing.

The new and improved hotline --  (888) 513-6321 -- is staffed with more than 100 agents, and if you don’t want to call for an appointment, the call center manager recommends using the online portal.

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“You don’t have to wait on the phone, you can go online yourself, see what’s available, and pick what works best for you,” Hall said.

What hadn’t been working for Pinellas County was BayCare’s drive-through test site in Carillon. Demand became so high, it started to impact the nearby businesses. So BayCare shut it down Tuesday.

They announced their replacement site Friday: Tropicana Field.

“We will be in Lots 1 and 2, and thru collaboration with our community partners, we’ve got space set aside there, to move people thru the lines,” said Keri Eisenbeis, the vice president of BayCare’s government and community relations. “It’s very much set up like our other drive-through sites.”

BayCare says their criteria to get tested is specific:

“Certainly if you have a doctor’s order to be tested, you will be able to move through the line there. If you meet the CDC symptoms and you’re symptomatic, you will be able to be tested there,” she said. “Our healthcare workers and those who have potentially been exposed will be able to be tested there.”

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Both Hillsborough and Pinellas county officials say the last two weeks, testing sites have been swamped – those with and without appointments showing up.

“We still are constrained by staff and supply. So while we are looking forward to meeting community need, we still have to balance that with the fact that there’s not an endless supply of either of these items,” Eisenbeis said.

During the week of June 29, the new Tropicana Field site will operate Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and be closed Friday, July 3, in observance of Independence Day. In subsequent weeks, the site would operate Monday through Friday from 8 to 11 a.m.

LINK: Hillsborough scheduling portal