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1st person: Getting COVID test at Regency is an eye-opener

News4Jax assignment manager and his wife experience wait, self-administered test

Line to get COVID-19 tests at Regency Square.
Line to get COVID-19 tests at Regency Square.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – We’ve done several stories about the long lines and waiting time at the COVID testing site inside the old Sears store at the Regency Square Mall. We’re always kept at a distance and only hear about the experience after the fact.

On Sunday, my wife and I had the opportunity to see how the process goes. One of her co-workers caught the virus and my wife was exposed. Therefore, so was I.

We made our appointments with Nomi Health and drove out to the mall on a cloudy morning, each with bottles of hand sanitizer and an umbrella, as there was a little drizzle. Arriving in the parking lot at 8:45 a.m., there was already a long line. There are actually two lines: one for those with appointments and one for walk-ups.

If you have to go to the test site, make an appointment. We were in and out in less than 75 minutes. That may seem like a long time, but another News4Jax employee went to the Regency site on Sunday and was told the wait without an appointment was four hours.

While we were in the appointment line, a man in the other line keeled over. Several good Samaritans came to his aid and they told Jacksonville Fire-Resuce he felt faint because of low blood sugar. He had already had COVID and was back to get a hoped-for negative test result. He told paramedics he didn’t want to go to the hospital and they were still attending to him as we entered the building.

My wife and I had gone to Lot J in July, where we drove thru, rolled the window down and got the swab shoved up our noses. The Regency site is something else entirely and more than a little unsettling.

First of all, as soon as you get inside, you realize the temperature is about 65 degrees. For those in line yesterday dressed in T-shirts and shorts, that quickly became a shock. There was one small woman in particular just ahead of us who visibly shivered as she moved thru the line. There was a young couple with four small children, one in a stroller, behind us. I’m sure that was the last place that mother and father wanted to take their kids, but they went through the line without complaining.

That’s the thing about Regency: no one wants to be there and it’s eerily quiet. There wasn’t a lot of talking. Many people were looking at their cellphones. I did hear one man mutter to a companion, “This is the scariest place on earth right now.”

Of course, everyone is wearing a mask. You don’t see their entire faces, but you see their eyes and what could be seen there was worry and concern. A couple of times I exchanged glances with someone and a nod that said silently, “Hope you’re negative.”

When I got thru the processing table, I was directed to another table for the swabbing, one for the rapid test, one for the PCR test. The staffers at these tables are all clad from head-to-toe in PPE: gowns, masks, shields and gloves. The ones I encountered were all professional, helpful and understanding. The one who gave me the two swabs even made jokes. She noted my mask, which has playing cards on it, and the eight of Spades front and center. We talked about Bridge and she said that her mother is a good player. That was much-needed human interaction in an awkward setting.

Oh yes, you will do your own swabbing now, and it’s not just a quick dab up the nostril then put it in the little plastic bag. For the rapid test, five swirls.

“I want secretions,” she said, “push ‘til to you hit resistance.”

“There are secretions,” I assured her. Then the PCR test: 15 swirls, in both nostrils.

“I know you can count to 15,” she said. “Yes, it’s two more than 13,” I answered, noting the number of cards dealt in a Bridge hand. We left the test site, but not before the Bridge player’s daughter handed me a package with five white cloth masks, courtesy of the state of Florida. My wife had gone thru the line ahead of me, but to a different table.

“They didn’t give me any,” she said. I gave her three of mine.

The rapid test results came back, well, rapidly. We both got texts on the way home, less than 30 minutes after the tests. “None detected,” was the welcome message.

Neither one of us was showing symptoms, and I didn’t think we had it, but we both have underlying health issues that make us more vulnerable to COVID. The PCR results haven’t come back yet.

We threw all our clothes into the washing machine and showered. Then came the really bad news from my hometown in Massachusetts. One of our grand nieces tested positive. She’s in elementary school. She is the 15th person I know who’s gotten COVID. We pray the case is a mild one, but she is afraid. As her whole family is.

This virus is real, and has to be taken seriously. Anyone who doubts it, I invite you to go thru the line at Regency.