TAMPA, Fla. - Long waits along with supply and staffing shortages continue to stymie Bay Area efforts to meet the demand for more COVID-19 testing.
To help, the state has now taken over Tampa’s testing site at Raymond James Stadium. With state nurses taking over staffing, the site will be able to expand from two to five days a week of testing.
Hillsborough County officials say they’ll also now have the supplies to test at least 1,000 people each day at the site. Tuesday, they tested 1,156.
But even with the expansion of testing, making an appointment to get a test is still a major hurdle for those who need one.
As of 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 30, the soonest available appointment was July 16. The only available sites were in Ruskin and Plant City. In other words, someone in Tampa looking to be tested is looking at a 16-day wait and a drive of at least 18 miles.
During Monday’s Hillsborough Emergency Police Group meeting, Plant City Mayor Rick Lott told Hillsborough Emergency Manager Tim Dudley that he’d been instructing those who can’t get a timely appointment to just show up at a site for a test.
Dudley says walk-ups are creating even bigger problems at Hillsborough’s seven test sites.
“For those folks that do have an appointment, you’re pushing them back and stepping on the folks that have scheduled the appointment,” explained Dudley. “If it’s their concern that they’ve been exposed, then we had that original messaging that you’re at home and you’re not out and about.”
Hillsborough County says they now have just as many people showing up at sites without appointments as they do scheduled appointments, creating extremely long waits for everyone.
“The critical path in all of this is our licensed medical professionals," said Jon-Paul Lavandeira, Hillsborough County testing site coordinator. "We only have them for a certain amount of time because they’re volunteering in between shifts at hospitals or doctors' offices. When their time is up their time is up. So when their time is up we’ve had to turn people away."
He stressed the importance of making an appointment, in order to make the process more efficient.
“We allot our kits, we allot our time that we can utilize our personnel based on the number of our appointments," he said. "If people just rush the gates and overwhelm those numbers It just throws everything off and that poor person who did the right thing, made an appointment and waited in line ends up being unable to get served.”
Over in Pinellas, Tropicana Field's parking lot opened up as a testing site on Monday in order to expand testing.
Patients began lining up more than two hours before the site opened. About an hour after opening, site administrators announced they’d already run through their testing supplies for that day. BayCare says they were able to test 356 people on Monday.
On Tuesday, the BayCare site reopened at 7 a.m. and once again hit its capacity early on. By 8:30 a.m., 514 people were tested for COVID-19 and the site closed for the day.
The Tropicana Field drive-thru site will reopen again at 7 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday. Starting next week, it will open at 8 a.m. Tests at the Trop are given on a first-come, first-served basis.
Beyond the Trop site, Pinellas County is also testing at several CVS locations and county health centers. To schedule an appointment, click here.
To schedule an appointment in Hillsborough County call (888) 513-6321 or schedule online.