Jacksonville readying new testing sites as COVID-19 hospitalizations rise

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As Jacksonville nears 12,300 confirmed coronavirus cases since state officials began tracking data, three new federal testing sites have opened in the city, which has been identified as a surge site by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The three new sites, combined with current testing locations in Jacksonville, are expected to increase the city’s testing capacity to an estimated 5,000 tests daily. Those sites along with an existing site at Lot J are set to close on Wednesday.

In place of Lot J, those seeking COVID-19 tests will be directed to a new indoor site inside the former Sears department store at Regency Square Mall. Having an indoor location will allow officials to test individuals, no matter the weather conditions outside.

RELATED: Here’s where you can get tested in Jacksonville

Mayor Lenny Curry, who is self-quarantining at home, experienced technical difficulties during a Friday news conference addressing the city’s response to the pandemic. But while his internet connection was stable, he said the city has no plans to shut things down again.

“It’s incumbent upon us to be responsible as leaders in cities and counties to figure out how to navigate this in a healthy way but also in a way that understands that the continual disruption of our children’s lives is largely just not acceptable,” Curry said.

Speaking at one point on Curry’s behalf, the mayor’s chief of staff detailed the current hospital and intensive care unit capacity at Jacksonville’s hospitals.

As of Friday morning, Chief of Staff Jordan Elsbury said, the state reported 744 additional cases of COVID-19, 74 deaths and an 8.9-percent positive testing percentage. Elsbury said there are currently 460 hospitalizations related to the virus, 82 of them with patients in the ICU.

“As we talked about on Tuesday, while we are seeing more COVID-19 related hospitalizations than we did in April, the percentage of those hospitalizations requiring ICU care is lower,” Elsbury said.

Besides the federal site at Regency Square Mall, the city also plans to open three testing sites of its own located in Arlington, Mandarin and the Beaches communities, which will be operated in partnership with Telescope Health, Optimum Health and the Florida Department of Health.

One of those sites will open on Monday at the Jim Fortuna Senior Center at 11751 McCormick Road inside Ed Austin Regional Park. That site will be open Monday to Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the next six months.

Testing at the Beaches site will take place at the former K-Mart shopping center on Atlantic Boulevard. Testing at that site will begin Thursday. Details for that site will be announced on Tuesday.

Testing at the Jim Fortuna Senior Center and the Beaches will be conducted in time slots based on people’s names and their vulnerability to the virus.

MORE: Telescope Health breaks down the time slots for COVID-19 testing

News4Jax could not obtain details about testing at the Mandarin site as of Saturday.

“By adding these additional city-funded sites, we continue to expand testing capacity to better help us in identifying and isolating positive innovative individuals to stop the spread of the virus,” Elsbury said.

The city says on its website to expect a 7-10-day turnaround time for COVID-19 results.

Gov. Ron DeSantis in a news conference Saturday afternoon addressed the backlog in Florida test results but said he hopes to start getting the lab results in 48 hours.

“The problem is the US is testing more on a daily basis than any country by far, and the lab resources are backed up,” DeSantis said. “Part of the reason is we’re testing a lot of asymptomatic and healthy people, and those numbers add up very quickly, and I think the consequence of that is you see some of these supplies dwindle.”

At the new sites opening this week, people being tested will have to wear a mask, show that they’re residents of Duval County and bring their own pens for use at the testing site.

About the Authors: