Volunteers prepare to open COVID-19 testing site at Bethel Church

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A new COVID testing site will be opening this week at Bethel Church near FSCJ’s campus downtown.

Patients can stop by 215 Bethel Baptist St. in Jacksonville between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Saturday morning, more than 35 volunteers were getting ready to open the site Monday by performing self-tests. They were basically doing a practice run for when the testing event happens next week.

That way they’ll know the process, be able to take people through it and answer any of the questions they have.

Victoria Bells, CEO of Community Health Care Systems, said the self-testing rehearsal actually serves another purpose as well.

“There’s a practice run, but they’re also testing each other. Because every single person that tests someone else needs to have the test done themselves so we know we will have their results back before they ever see someone else,” Bells said. “Before they see a patient, they’re going to be negative themselves.”

Bethel Church was founded in 1838 and is the oldest Baptist church congregation in the state of Florida.

Officials say testing resources are particularly important for the Black community, where outreach is still a challenge when it comes to vaccines and testing.

List: COVID-19 testing sites in Northeast Florida

Officials also say mistrust of the COVID-19 vaccine process in the Black community is still an issue. That’s why the Bethel Church is partnering with a Black-owned company out of Georgia that has previously worked with schools and the homeless population in Atlanta.

As the omicron variant continues to cause headaches for hospital staff, employers and citizens, testing as a means of COVID-19 surveillance is as critical as ever.

It’s why, Bells says, it’s so vital to keep testing available -- particularly for the Black community.

“What you see right here is beautiful, right? If we trained more people like this, right? It would not be such a strain on the hospitals, or the medical centers, because testing now has evolved,” Bells said. “So when the next variant comes, because it will come, this community is going to be prepared.”

The drive-thru location for the tests will be on the west side of the building, where cars will line up and get those PCR test results. Meanwhile, drivers can also be parked in the parking lot to await their rapid test results. Both tests will be offered.

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Health Duval County announced it’s rolling back available hours at the Emmett Reed testing and vaccination site. After Feb. 5, the department said staff will no longer be working the site on Saturdays.

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