JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Friday, hundreds of people waited in line to get tested for COVID-19, some for a few hours, at the Duval County Health Department's site downtown.
The line at the health department's Central Health Plaza site wrapped around the building for most of the day. A spokesperson for the site said they've seen an increase in testing over the past two weeks. They're currently testing 300 to 400 people per day.
“Seeing that there are long lines again since the spike is up again, I wanted to be prepared," Cynthia Avery, who got tested Friday, said.
Avery brought her beach chair and a book, ready for the long COVID testing line. She and hundreds of others waited in the heat to get a test. Avery and others said it was a scene they never thought they'd see again.
”I’m actually at a loss for words because I really thought that this was potentially going away and now we’re back," Avery said.
Avery works as a massage therapist and got tested just in case.
“Even though I didn’t think I was potentially affected, just the safety and just the piece of knowing in a sense ... my mind is really strong on making sure I’m not carrying and not having symptoms and not passing it, so that’s a big thing for me," she said.
The health department and Agape Family Health Care are the only walk up testing sites in the area.
“That’s why the lines are going to continue to get long, so I think we should ramp that back up again as a health safety precaution for everyone," she said.
Sebastian Mustipher agreed.
"I don't feel like they have enough places open," he said.
Mustipher had COVID-19 a few weeks ago, and his fiancé is in the hospital right now with COVID. He waited in line to get retested Friday to be able to return to work.
"This is serious. It's not anything to play with. I didn’t take it for a joke then, and I don’t take it for a joke now, but by me going through this transition it just showed me how it can take effect on anybody," Mustipher said.
A spokesperson for the health department said there are plans to open testing and vaccination sites in underserved areas, with information to be released soon. There are not, however, plans to reopen mass testing sites.
“Numbers have tripled and quadrupled within weeks," Mia Jones, CEO of Agape Family Health Care, said. "One week we’re at 50 [tests]. This week we’re at almost 200 testings in one day," she said.
Jones said they've seen a significant rise in the need for tests recently too.
“It’s sad when I know that we’re getting ready to close down at six o’clock and somebody is calling and says they have five people who need to be tested and I’m not able to assist them. It’s something I take very personally," she said.
Jones said they cut back on testing when the vaccine came out. Right now, she said their testing resources are at less than one-third of what it was at the height of the pandemic.
“I think it’s really important that we be able to listen to our community and what’s going on around us. We saw this coming over the past three weeks. It has been going up steadily, so we have to be able to have the support necessary for us to be nimble like we want to be but also maintain fiscal soundness as an organization," she said.
Agape and the health department also offer the vaccine, something Mustipher said he and his fiancé will get, and he urges others to do so too.
”Get the vaccine. I didn’t tell anybody not to get it, but I am getting it. It was just that I was waiting to see how it was going to affect … but like I told my fiancé, 'we are getting this vaccine,'" he said.
First Coast News also reached out to the City of Jacksonville and asked if it has any plans to reopen mass testing sites.
A city spokesperson said in a statement, "This is not a simple process. It requires contracts with vendors, money and supplies. Plus, we will have to close off locations, like senior centers, that experience a lot of volume this time of year. In addition, we closed the sites because of a serious lack of volume. In some cases, we were only seeing a few people an hour. While we understand that more people are in need of testing, it would take time to get a site up and running. If there are any new developments, we will let them know."
The health department is open Tuesday through Friday nine a.m. to four p.m. Those hours will extend to Monday through Friday, Aug. 2.
Agape's Blanding Boulevard location is open Monday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Dunn Avenue location is open Thursdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
You can also schedule appointments to get tested at CVS and Walgreens, or at one of Avecina Medical's three locations.