Coronavirus testing dilemma: Hillsborough has kits but not enough staff, may need state’s help

Coronavirus

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Car after car, hundreds lined up Wednesday evening in Brandon, waiting for a COVID-19 test.

The line of cars stretched down South Lakewood Drive in front of Suncoast Health Systems, a county testing site which offers evening hours.

Hillsborough County has a big battle on its hands when it comes to COVID-19 testing.

They have the kits. But they don’t have enough people to administer them.

Rob Navarez was one of many Hillsborough residents who showed up in Brandon late Wednesday fed up and frustrated.

“I’m very angry about it,” Rod told 8 On Your Side as he sat in his car. “We need more sites to be testing. This is ridiculous. This is crazy. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and you can’t get tested.”

Residents say it’s simple. More testing sites are needed.

“The way it’s happening, before you know it, everybody else is sick again. Is it really going to go away,” asked Susan Aponte as she waited in line.

One 23-year-old from Brandon says he’s worried since his age group is among those testing positive more and more.

“I feel since the whole opening, people started going out to bars and restaurants, and the majority of the people who aren’t scared at all are in that range,” said Juan Velasquez.

With seven testing sites throughout the county, some have had to close early due to high demand and low staff numbers.

The vast parking lot at Raymond James Stadium is one of them. The site sat empty Wednesday afternoon in the hot sun.

Turns out, heat is also a factor for staffers who are outside administering the tests to county residents. Hillsborough County leaders tell 8 On Your Side they’re “currently in negotiations with the state.”

“We are considering any and all options,” said J. Lavandeira from Hillsborough County Code Enforcement.

County leaders describe the situation as “complicated.”

“We need to have licensed medical staff out here being able to administer this test. We’re asking for those resources to the best of our ability,” Lavandeira said. “If it was just as simple as feeding more kits into the machine and it’d keep on going, it’s a not a kit issue, far from it.”

Code enforcement would not go into detail regarding the specifics of “negotiations” with state leaders and the governor’s office.

Right now, the county is testing roughly 1,000 people per day. Some days, it’s even more since the demand for testing is at an all-time high.

But there’s not enough staff to administer the test kits, so some testing sites are empty – for now. Hillsborough County leaders are hoping they get support staff from the state sooner rather than later.

“We have to stick within our resource limitation. We have staff that can only work a number of hours and there’s a lot of heat involved in this. You can’t run these people into the ground, there’s a balance you have to consider. We do the best we can. We go to war with the weapons we have and we do the best we can,” said Lavandeira.

During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, code enforcement also talked about the implementation of online scheduling for Hillsborough residents when it comes to testing, in an effort to streamline the process.

There are currently seven locations in the county with varying hours, including a Brandon location that can accommodate testing in the evening hours.

NOTE: We previously reported the county was looking at the possibility of bringing in the National Guard to help with testing, but that information was not correct. This story has been updated.

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