Testing demand rises, but more staffing needed; Hillsborough County calls on state for help

Hillsborough County

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Hillsborough County leaders are battling a COVID-19 complication involving a lack of people administering tests, which is causing sites to shut down early and angering citizens.

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.

“This isn’t a test kit shortage issue,” Jon-Paul Lavandeira, Hillsborough County’s OCVID-19 Operations Lead, said.

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.

The county is looking at every option on the table, including adding more testing sites. However, a lot of factors go into that. The main being, having enough man power to open another site.

“It’s not a mere question of pouring more testing kits in a machine and just keep it going, there are other considerations,” Lavandeira said. “We have licensed medical professionals out here in the sun, it’s very hot out here in PPE. You can only expect someone to produce so much in a certain amount of time. They have to rest and they also have other jobs to get to. Most of these people are volunteers and have to get back to the hospitals they work at.”

With seven testing sites throughout the county, some have had to close early due to high demand and low staff numbers. Now, Hillsborough County leaders tell 8 On Your Side they’re “currently in negotiations with the state.”

“We are considering any and all options,” said Lavandeira.

Lavandeira 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.

However, 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.

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