With COVID-19 cases rising, rush on to get tested

More people in line for test than to get a vaccination

Long lines formed Tuesday at the health department in Springfield. It was for testing- not the vaccine. Health officials call it "puzzling

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The line to get a COVID-19 test Tuesday at the Florida Health Department’s Duval Central Health Plaza in Springfield stretched around the building -- far longer than the line nearby to get a vaccination.

People waited for hours are told that they only need to be tested if they are unvaccinated or showing symptoms, and it will take one to three days to get the results.

Free walk-up testing at the office at 515 West 6th Street is available Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free testing is also available at the health department locations in most Florida counties. (Find a DOH location near you.)

“This is ridiculous,” said Joan Borhon as she waited to get tested. “Look at the line. Why doesn’t our government in Florida, because we live in Florida, open other stuff?”

“This is the most unorganized testing,” Paula Blackburn said, “People are passing out.”

Health Department officials said the line was not the result of a lack of tests or staff, but a slow registration process.

“Our system is electronic and we have to register each individual client,” said Tawanda Washington, assistant director of nursing.

Other options to get tested

Agape Family Health’s office at 5460 Blanding Blvd. from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, and at its location at 1680 Dunn Ave. from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. on Thursday and Friday.

Most CVS and Walgreens pharmacies also offer COVID-19 testing by appointment. Insurance or the federal government will be billed.

Avecina Medical offers COVID-19 testing at its three locations: Julington Creek, Oakleaf Town Center and Tinseltown. Insurance will be billed if it is determined medical necessity. Otherwise, the self-pay fee is $125.

Curative is offering tests at a mobile site in the parking lot of HavanaJAX on Atlantic Boulevard. Proof of insurance is required. (Register online)

The demand for testing has been on the rise as the number of cases and hospitalizations began steeply rising earlier this month as case numbers began to rise. Data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows coronavirus hospitalizations in Florida have tripled in three weeks.

Some of those awaiting testing Tuesday at the DOH office said they were planning to get the vaccine, but not all.

“I have not been vaccinated as of yet. I was planning on getting a test and go over there and be vaccinated,” Michelle Howze said.

“I’m not into all of that. I am pretty healthy and I will just weather whatever storm,” another woman said. “I am good.”

Emergency rooms and ICU beds at local hospitals are filling up and a well-known Jacksonville immunologist is calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency. A state of emergency would free up additional resources like what happens with hurricanes and other emergencies in the state.

As of Saturday, the Department of Health and Human Services said 6,639 people were in the hospital with COVID-19 in Florida. That’s an increase of nearly 5,000 people since July 3.

For more perspective, at the height of the pandemic last year -- July 23 -- 10,014 people were hospitalized with the virus.

Baptist Health is treating nearly 390 patients for COVID-19, including more than 80 in the intensive care unit.

The hospital said over 99% of the people hospitalized have not been vaccinated. News4Jax reporters toured the hospital and spoke with patients, including Francisca, a COVID-19 patient. She said she felt bad.

“I cannot breathe good. I have shortness of breath. I feel sorry about not getting a vaccine,” Francisca said.

Francisca said she does not think she would be in the hospital if she were vaccinated.

UF Health Jacksonville on Monday had 175 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, 50 of whom were in the intensive care unit.

That’s up from the 150 hospitalizations on Friday, a number that was already a 1,000% increase in cases since June.

A local immunologist reiterated these hospitalizations are impacting people who also need other types of care.

Dr. Sunil Joshi said the older population is still requiring hospitalization for other things, like heart attacks.

“People still get GI bleeds, people still get appendicitis and break bones and have to go to the hospital,” Joshi said. “And so the hospital is starting to reach capacity, just with COVID-19 patients. What’s it going to do for those other people who also need hospitalization?”

File photo of Dr. Sunil Joshi.

He said that’s why hospitals are looking for some help with a possible state of emergency.

Hospitals throughout Jacksonville are still stressing that wait times are being impacted by this. If what you’re experiencing is not something urgent, like a stroke or heart attack, you could have to wait longer.

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.