TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Officials in the City of Tampa are set to reopen the Al Lopez Testing Site amid a resurgence in positive COVID-19 cases throughout the region.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor attended the opening of the new testing site, just days before crowds are expected to gather for New Year’s holiday celebrations.
The testing site, located in the Al Lopez Park in West Tampa, will reopen Friday, Dec. 31 and run seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. until further notice. The site will also be open on New Year’s Day. Both the PCR and the Rapid Antigen tests will be offered.
“This is a highly contagious COVID variant hitting our community, and it’s important for all of us to take personal responsibility and take precautions to protect ourselves, family members, colleagues, and neighbors,” Mayor Castor said. “Vaccinations and boosters are the best protection from serious illness.”
City officials said the Al Lopez Testing Site will offer COVID tests only. Those looking to get a COVID-19 vaccine can do so at the West Tampa Community Resource Center on 2103 N. Rome Ave., in Tampa.
The mayor said the city has seen a “dramatic increase” in local COVID cases, and so they were presenting an overview of where the population was in terms of COVID-19. Health officials said they were experiencing a very high number of new cases, but not all cases are genetically sequenced, preventing them from getting a full accounting of how many cases were due to specific variants.
To determine how many cases are due to a specific variant, the genetic code has to be sequenced. Ryan Pedigo, from the Florida Department of Health, said that the vast majority of local cases were omicron, however that is mostly an estimate due to the testing needs to confirm it.
Pedigo urged social distancing, vaccination, hand washing and masking to help curb the spread of the virus. The omicron variant is notably more transmissible.
“We know through studies that the cloth mask is not as effective as a surgical mask,” Pedigo said. He said surgical masks were available in stores, and that they do help against the spread, where most infections are coming from breathing it in, rather than from touching something.
“We won’t ever totally eliminate the risk of you getting it,” Pedigo said, urging caution. “But by following these few simple procedures, you can actually minimize your risk and reduce that.”
Pedigo said they are primarily seeing omicron, which has less severe symptoms. He said hospitalizations were lower than during the delta surge.
Bonnie Wise, the Hillsborough County Administrator, said they have done close to 3,000 tests per day, almost 1,000 more than they’d been doing daily just a week earlier.
To get tested at the new location, residents can also go to Progress Village Park on Progress Boulevard, starting Dec. 30. The site will open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, but will remain closed for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Two other sites will open temporarily in Hillsborough County in Plant City and Tampa to cover for the testing site closures on the New Year’s holiday. Testing will be limited, according to Wise.
Responding to a question, Castor said the city has a “great relationship with our local department of health and that is on the state level.”
She said they’ve worked together to get the community what it needs. Castor did not say whether a New Year’s event set to take place at Armature Works should be canceled, saying she was unaware of the event.
Pedigo said there were supplies ready to handle current demand, but sites in other counties have had some issues with staying supplied. He said they have put in orders for additional supplies in anticipation of increased demand after the holiday season, but so far the county has avoided issues.
“We always prepare for the worst,” Pedigo said. “That it’s not going to go away,” but remained hopeful that the COVID-19 virus would eventually go away. “I’m hoping people go into this New Year’s holiday with an awareness and concern that they might contract it or that they might give it to other people.”
Pedigo said the asymptomatic cases prompted a need for more caution and distance from people, then urged people to get vaccinated and get their booster shots to reduce the severity of the disease, even if it’s contracted.
While specific appointment times will not be available on this walk-up site, residents can pre-register their contact information with the City of Tampa to receive their test results.
The news comes hours after Hillsborough County announced its own free COVID-19 testing site to meet the rising demand. That site is set to open Thursday, Dec. 30 at the Progress Village Park, 8701 Progress Boulevard in Tampa.
It is unclear if the growing number of cases will affect Gasparilla festivities in January.