PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Some people in Pinellas County are frustrated learning Thursday that three free COVID-19 test centers promoted by Pinellas County leaders ran out of test kits and needed to turn away people hoping to drive-up and walk-up for an appointment.
Scheduled appointments also booked up for the remainder of the week at the three test centers in Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park.
The Community Health Centers of Pinellas leaders tell ABC Action News demand for the free testing was overwhelming. Within the first three days, Elodie Dorso says 900 people flocked to test sites.
One reason the sites are so popular is that people can be tested whether they have symptoms or not. The test sites are also free of charge and do not require a doctor’s note.
Amber Taylor was able to get tested right before the kits ran out.
“I didn’t expect them to run out so quickly, and I don’t think they did obviously either,” she said.
Taylor spent more than an hour on the phone this week trying to make an appointment and then says she spent several more hours waiting on a call back to confirm her spot.
“I was frustrated. When they did return my call, they transferred me, I was on hold for 30 minutes, and then I got hung up on,” she added.
On Thursday, the Community Health Centers of Pinellas had to call off walk-up and drive-up test services. Many people, like Mary Godmaire, were told to come back at a later date.
“It is a little frustrating because we want to be ahead of all of this, and if we can’t get tested to find out, that causes a problem,” she explained.
Godmaire is asymptomatic but wanted to get a test to ensure she is safe to continue doing essential errands.
“I would like to just have a good frame of mind that I’m clear or not clear,” she explained.
Taylor woke up this week with a sore throat and decided to get tested just to be certain she can’t transmit COVID-19 to others.
“I know and appreciate the effort of the staff at the Community Health Centers of Pinellas, and it must be really hard, but obviously there is a huge demand, and I don’t think they were remotely prepared for that demand,” she said.
To meet the high demand, Community Health Centers of Pinellas plans to open a fourth testing location in Lealman starting Monday, May 11. The Lealman location will be open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each week.
Long lines at the testing sites are expected to continue. Test site operators say your best bet is to make an appointment over the phone several days in advance, which will speed up the process by giving the testing teams your medical information before you arrive.
The three testing sites are located in Clearwater at 707 East Druid Road, Pinellas Park at 7550 43rd Street N. and in St. Petersburg at 1344 22nd Street South. They are open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
You can make an appointment by calling 727-824-8181 and selecting option zero.
The fourth location, opening May 11, in the Lealman area is located at 5175 45th St N, St. Petersburg. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Here’s the full statement released by CEO Elodie Dorso of the Community Health Centers of Pinellas:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our global community in challenging and unexpected ways. No one is immune from the reach of COVID-19, and Community Health Centers of Pinellas is proud to do its part to help our citizens navigate the complex nature of testing in our community. By working in partnership with the County Board of Commissioners, we quickly created a plan to establish a testing protocol and provide COVID-19 testing to Pinellas County residents, no matter an individual’s ability to pay. Because widespread testing has not been available to date, we launched three testing centers throughout the county to not only administer as many tests as possible, but to also determine how widespread this unmet need is across our community. In our first few days in operation, our testing centers were overwhelmed with individuals interested in receiving a test, and our dedicated team did its best to process and administer tests for as many of our residents as possible. In just three days, our team tested nearly 900 individuals, for the first time giving these residents clarity around their COVID-19 status. Based on the results we have seen to date, we don’t expect our local demand to diminish, and that’s why we’re pleased to announce the opening of a fourth testing center starting next week. The new Lealman Center location will be open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each week. Additionally, we anticipate long wait times for those dropping in to testing sites to continue. To reduce wait time and eliminate uncertainty around if there will be capacity to test every walk-up, we want to encourage all residents to preregister and obtain an appointment by phone. This action allows our team to obtain important medical information before you arrive onsite, allowing these individuals to receive a test as soon as they arrive. To schedule a testing appointment, please call 727-824-8181 and select option zero. Finally, I want to thank those who have shown kindness and empathy during this challenging time. As I mentioned, everyone has felt the impacts of COVID-19, especially our staff. These public servants have stepped up to this challenge and selflessly risked their health to make sure our neighbors are taken care of throughout this unprecedented crisis. We are so proud of our team and can’t thank them enough for their dedicated efforts.”