Jacksonville field hospital in the works as COVID-19 testing continues

‘We are nowhere near capacity,' fire chief says of area hospitals

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As officials expand access to COVID-19 testing in the Jacksonville area, they’re also ramping up efforts to make sure the city is prepared in case of a surge in the number of cases.

While cars have been lining up daily at Lot J near TIAA Bank Field, where the federal government has a drive-thru testing site for Northeast Florida residents, the wait hasn’t been been nearly as long at the city’s mobile testing site behind the Prime Osborn Convention Center in LaVilla.

As of Tuesday, the city estimates nearly 1,000 people have been tested at the Lot J site, while at least 450 have gotten tested at the site reserved for city residents at the convention center. That does not include the 467 people screened at a separate site run by Ascension St. Vincent’s.

Many people are still waiting for their results as they typically take a few days to come back.

Even as access to testing grows, News4Jax has heard from people who said they were turned away because they did not meet requirements such as having a high temperature or shortness of breath. Some said they waited for a long time but could not get their questions answered.

“In terms of the testing, we are working with our federal partners testing the capabilities that we can to make sure we don’t overload the labs,” Mayor Lenny Curry said of the situation Tuesday. “That’s just facts, that’s just where we are. The good news is we got our testing, so it’s up and running.”

The mayor encouraged residents who have multiple symptoms of COVID-19 — trouble breathing, a fever of 99.6 degrees and coughing — to visit the testing sites. It’s worth noting, however, that an appointment is required for the city’s site at the Prime Osborn.

As part of the city’s response to the outbreak, the Jacksonville Fire-Rescue Department is working to set up a field hospital that will go inside the convention center. That includes coordinating with local and state hospitals to make sure the facility is ready to go in case it’s needed.

It’s not yet clear whether the field hospital would be used to house coronavirus patients or if it would be relied upon to relieve crowding at area hospitals. For his part, Fire Chief Keith Powers said none of the local hospitals are dealing with any overcrowding issues.

“I can tell you we are nowhere near capacity right now with this city, and we’re monitoring that on a daily basis,” Chief Powers said. “And if we see a need in the area, we will get to the appropriate hospital and start making those adjustments with that field hospital that we are setting up.”

At the moment, the convention center is being used as a staging area to store equipment, the chief said. He said the field hospital won’t be open for at least a few days, noting there is still work to be done with partner hospitals.

“Once we get that up and running, we should be able to open,” Powers said.

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