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Demand For Coronavirus Tests Overwhelming Tampa Bay Area Sites

Cars lined up at drive-thru testing site at Tropicana Field.
St. Petersburg Police Department
The new drive-thru testing site at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg had to close for the day about an hour after opening because it ran out of supplies.

As coronavirus cases in Florida have surged, so has the demand for testing and Tampa Bay area health officials are struggling to keep up.

A new testing site at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg run by BayCare had to shut down for the day about an hour after opening because it ran out of supplies.

This comes after the healthcare organization had to close a drive-thru testing site in the Carillon office park last week because long lines of cars were disrupting other local businesses.

BayCare tested 357 people at Tropicana Field on Monday morning.

“No one likes turning people away, but unfortunately the nation’s supply lines and laboratory capacity continue to struggle to expand fast enough to keep up with COVID-19’s spread and the increased demand for testing,” Jim Cote, senior vice president of BayCare Ambulatory Services, said in a statement. “We will be back tomorrow and serve as many as we can.”

The site will reopen at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning and is operating on a first-come, first-serve basis, with doctor referrals recommended.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman tweeted the testing capacity was “disappointing” and said the city is working on getting more supplies.

In Hillsborough County, 7,136 appointments are scheduled this week at county testing sites, according to Emergency Management Director Timothy Dudley. That’s up from 4,475 last week.

Once walk-ups were factored in, the county conducted 5,782 tests last week.

County officials said many people are opting to just show up at testing sites because appointment slots at some locations aren’t available until well into July. While they discourage people from doing this, as it takes away from those who did reserve a slot, they are not yet turning away walk-ups, particularly those who are experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19.

During the county’s Emergency Policy Group meeting on Monday afternoon, Dudley acknowledged the large increase in demand for tests and said meeting it isn't easy.

“Appointments are tied to the number of collection kits we have available, and the collection kits are tied to the level of protective equipment available to conduct those tests, and then also we have to have the staffing, which consists of volunteers here in our medical community and their availability to conduct these tests,” he said.

Dudley said the county has sufficient amounts of PPE at the moment but is still struggling to secure more collection kits and staff to expand testing to the level it would like.

Still, the number of tests conducted has increased. The county health department reported a rolling seven-day average of 3,100 tests per day, up 19 percent from the rolling 14-day average of 2,600.

State health workers are taking over testing at Raymond James Stadium, which officials say starting Tuesday will conduct 1,000 tests a day, five days a week.

If you've experienced challenges trying to get a coronavirus test and want to share your story, email healthnewsflorida@wusf.org.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.