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UF Health to test asymptomatic people in Jacksonville for COVID-19

Medical professionals to also test public housing residents with symptoms

JACKSONVILLE Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans Tuesday to set up an additional coronavirus testing site and do clinical support in Jacksonville public housing projects in Jacksonville. The testing is being done in cooperation with UF Health.

The state will also start conduct surveillance testing in Jacksonville -- taking samples from asymptomatic people to get an idea of how many cases of COVID-19 there are that are not being reported.

“We felt it’s important to make an extra effort to reach out to some areas that may be underserved,” DeSantis said. “There’s also going to be a research component to it, where they’re going to be looking at kind of a broader cross-section of people. And, specifically, more of a surveillance type testing, and that will just help us try to understand the extent to which people who are not symptomatic may have this and, I think, it will contribute to our understanding of how this disease is affecting the broader community.”

A similar community surveillance collection at The Villages, a large retirement community, done in partnership with the University of Florida, tested at least 600 asymptomatic people found no positive cases.

“So we’ll see how this community surveillance in the Jacksonville area will work, but I think that that’s important because it really helps inform us in terms of what additional steps we can take,” DeSantis said.

Initial efforts, starting Wednesday, will involve a team of 40 to 50 volunteer UF Health medical professionals and medical students who will evaluate up to about 2,000 people over the next few weeks.

People must be 65 or older or have a UF Health Jacksonville primary care physician to participate. They will be assessed for symptoms, travel and exposure history and tested if they meet clinical criteria. Depending on the severity of their illness, they could potentially be further evaluated on-site or at a UF Health facility or remain home to self-quarantine while awaiting test results.

Debra Townsend-Reed told News4Jax she looks forward to being tested, as she hopes it will ease some of her anxiety.

“I had an appointment at the doctor, and I’m looking around, I don’t see so many people with their masks on with their gloves on. I’m scared to sit down. I don’t know what to do,” said Townsend-Reed, who had a mask on and was wearing gloves. “The reason it scares me is because I can’t interact with my grandkids anymore. Friends will come over and sit in the yard -- they can no longer sit in the yard. I cannot go church."

Walk-up or drive-thru screening for residents of The Oaks at Durkeeville and the surrounding area will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at Emmett Reed Community Center.

Walk-up or drive-thru screening for residents of The Oaks at Durkeeville and the surrounding area will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at Emmett Reed Community Center.
Walk-up or drive-thru screening for residents of The Oaks at Durkeeville and the surrounding area will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at Emmett Reed Community Center. (WJXT)

“I think it’s a great idea because, you know, a lot of people don’t have transportation and that would be closer from here," said Arthur Bright, who lives in The Oaks at Durkeeville. "I think its a great idea.”

Testing will continue Wednesday through Friday the week of April 13, rotating through the following communities: Brentwood, 761 Village Center Dr.; Hogan Creek, 1320 N. Broad St.; Twin Towers, 617-621 W. 44th St.; and Centennial Towers, 230 E. First St.

Dates and locations are subject to change based on weather and availability of testing materials. Residents can call 904-244-4420 to confirm details.

Testing will continue Wednesday through Friday the week of April 13, rotating through the following communities: Brentwood, 761 Village Center Dr.; Hogan Creek, 1320 N. Broad St.; Twin Towers, 617-621 W. 44th St.; and Centennial Towers, 230 E. First St.
Testing will continue Wednesday through Friday the week of April 13, rotating through the following communities: Brentwood, 761 Village Center Dr.; Hogan Creek, 1320 N. Broad St.; Twin Towers, 617-621 W. 44th St.; and Centennial Towers, 230 E. First St. (WJXT)

Criteria for clinical testing generally include having a fever, cough, shortness of breath and close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

“The heart and soul of an academic health center like UF Health is a commitment to educate and serve under-resourced members of the community, especially in times of crisis,” said Leon J. Haley, CEO of UF Health Jacksonville.

Those without symptoms who want to be tested can sign up for a UF research study and receive testing using a UF-developed COVID-19 test that is currently not FDA-approved. The goal is to identify people with early disease -- those who have the virus but are not exhibiting symptoms -- which can help guide recommendations to lessen the impact of the outbreak and, later, to identify when officials might be able to start lifting restrictions.

DeSantis announced the developments at an afternoon meeting that focused on health care workers and included a testimonial from a patient who is recovering from the disease.


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