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No-appointment COVID-19 testing under way

By Staff | May 7, 2020

No-appointment needed, no doctor’s note required testing for COVID-19 is now available for Lee County residents.

That is, if you’re willing to wait.

On Monday, through a partnership with the Florida Division of Emergency Management, the Florida Department of Health, the Florida National Guard, Lee County and Collier County, the state opened a drive-thru, community-based COVID-19 testing site at the CenturyLink Sports Complex. Residents also know this as the home of the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels (formerly the Miracle) and spring home of the Minnesota Twins.

The first three days of the operation saw a total of 1,816 residents come through the gates to get tested.

Testing is available for individuals over the age of 18 regardless of symptoms. The site is drive-thru only. Individuals being tested will not be permitted to exit their vehicle. No prescription is required. The testing site is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., though the gates will close at 3 p.m. to make sure all in the queue are tested. This is a nasal test swab to see if you are positive for the virus, not an antibody test.

“Right now this is the best thing people can do if they believe they have COVID-19 symptoms,” said Susan Lindenmuth, director of public affairs for Estero Fire Rescue and on-site working with the state. “If you are in this line, you believe you have COVID. We are not doing antibody testing here. It’s just testing for the virus.”

The first day of testing to the public was a little hectic, officials said.

“Monday was very rough, it was the first day,” Lindenmuth said. “There were very long lines. People were getting in line very early.”

The wait time from when you check in at the first gate, to get the testing done and completed, is anywhere from two to two-and-a-half hours, officials said.

Traffic being blocked on the main road leading into the complex was a major issue, and officials ask those to not obstruct the flow of traffic waiting to get into the site.

While some residents only have a specific window of time to get tested, officials ask residents to not all come at once in the morning, and if possible, to arrive throughout the day and into the afternoon.

On Tuesday, Lee County officials reported that the wait time at noon was only 45 minutes.

“Typically in the afternoon, the line kind of dies down a little bit,” Lindenmuth said. “That’s a good time to come in.”

The testing site flowed more smoothly as the days passed, and on Thursday morning shortly after 10 a.m., lines were moving smoothly and no traffic was stacked up at the gate.

There are 700 tests per day available at the site. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the site collected more than 650 samples each day. The number of tests available per day increased from 400 Monday, to 700 Tuesday, as the site ran out of tests quickly on its first day of operation.

You must bring a valid photo ID if you want to be tested. A mask or face covering must be worn to the site and you must stay in your vehicle at all times, windows closed. Those who are tested will be directed when to roll down their window. You must have a functioning window, as vehicle doors must stay closed at all times.

When you get to the first checkpoint, you will be asked to keep your window up and to show your photo ID through the window. Lindenmuth recommended writing your address and phone number down in big letters on a separate sheet of paper to display on your dashboard to help with the small print on a license or other identification.

The county warned residents to make sure their fuel tank has the appropriate amount of reserve to last a long time.

Those who need medication should bring it with them in their car. The county also recommended bringing your own water or snacks.

“Practice patience,” Lindenmuth said. “Everyone is in the same boat. It is time consuming.”

The site will support residents of both Lee and Collier counties.

There is currently only one site throughout the state of Florida that is collecting antibody samples: Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

Gov. Ron DeSantis also has plans to open two more antibody collection sites in the very near future: one in Jacksonville and one in Orlando.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a dozen antibody-testing kits to date, but many others saturate the market currently.

The state has adopted a test manufactured by Cellex, a company out of North Carolina that has developed one of the 12 tests approved by the FDA.

These tests are not swabs, but a prick of the finger to have blood tested. Florida has acquired roughly 200,000 tests to use at the sites. Antibody tests at state-operated sites will be free.

CenturyLink Sports Complex is at 14100 Ben C. Pratt/ Six-Mile Cypress Parkway, Fort Myers, 33912.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj