JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville residents lined up for hours outside the Department of Health’s Springfield facility Friday despite scorching temperatures, saying they had no choice: they need to get tested for COVID-19.
Ann Mercado and her 14-year-old son, Phillip, were among those waiting for tests. They told News4Jax with infections and hospitalizations surging in Duval County and throughout Florida, they wanted answers only a lab test could provide.
“So many people are getting, like, more sick and I’m pretty scared, you know, to be honest,” Phillip Mercado said.
Like many others waiting in line in the sweltering heat, the 14-year-old boy has not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19. But given the recent rise in the number of cases, he said he’s now planning to get the vaccine.
The Duval County Health Department’s Central Health Plaza at 515 West 6th St. in Springfield is one of a few sites in the city where people can get tested for free. Some people were just hoping for peace of mind.
Agape Family Health, a nonprofit health center, also offers publicly funded testing at various times and locations during the week. Friday, the wait time at its Dunn Avenue testing site was long, but people stayed cool while waiting in their cars.
Mia Jones, chief executive officer for Agape Community Health Center, said the nonprofit has performed up to 300 tests a day. But she sees a need to expand testing, saying they could open more sites and do more testing with more funding.
The nonprofit hasn’t seen any funding increases yet. Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday the state has no plans to reopen testing sites because many pharmacies offer testing. News4Jax found most pharmacies require appointments for tests.
Jones said that requirement could present a problem, especially given how quickly COVID-19 can spread if undetected.
“When you start to talk about the private companies, they are most likely not able to get you in the same day,” she said. “So you have people having to wait 3-4 days. If it’s a situation where you’ve been in contact with someone (with COVID), you need to be able to get tested that day, or as soon as possible.”
State Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, said the governor should revisit his position on public testing sites.
“We are getting slammed, particularly in Duval County,” Nixon told News4Jax. “The numbers are rising and it’s up to our administration, our governor’s office, to do his job. He needs to step it up a notch and ensure the health and safety of the residents across the state of Florida.”
That was the feeling among some of those lined up Friday afternoon in Springfield, who fear things will only get worse.
News4Jax has been asking Mayor Lenny Curry and members of the Jacksonville City Council about opening additional testing sites for residents. The health department is set to provide an update to a Council committee on Monday.