JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Louie Lopez went to get the monoclonal antibody treatment at the downtown Jacksonville site Wednesday. He said he expected to see sick people like himself, but not people as sick as he saw.
Lopez took a picture that has since been shared countless times of patients laying on the ground while waiting to receive injections of monoclonal antibodies.
"I'm not trying to dramatize it," Lopez said. "I just felt bad for them. The picture really doesn't do it justice in the sense that these people were in pain. They were moaning. They were in pain, and what happened was I took the picture and sent it to my wife because I said, 'Oh my God. Look at this. These poor people,'" he said.
Lopez, who is vaccinated, contracted COVID last week. He said he is high risk, and his doctor recommended he get the monoclonal treatment.
Officials for the state-run and city-supported site confirmed Thursday the patients in the picture that Lopez's wife posted to Reddit were waiting for the treatment. The state contracted CDR Maguire Health & Medical to run the site. A city spokesperson said the scene was the result of large patient volume, which she said more than doubled Wednesday.
Due to the amount of traffic, she said, all of the available wheelchairs were in use. The city spokesperson said they're now providing triple the number of wheelchairs and will provide cots and signs directing people to alert someone if they need assistance.
"After about 45 minutes, they did bring some wheelchairs out, and basically pulled those people onto those chairs. I will say I tip my hat off to the staff because you could just tell everything was new," Lopez said. "They're trying to get things going, you know, they're trying to get organized in a new setting. There was a lot going on. You're dealing with some very sick people," he said.
Lopez said a staff member put a medical gown on the woman in the foreground of the picture at one point because she was cold.
"I do know the staff was doing their very best to keep up with a chaotic situation," Lopez said. "I think I was just more surprised at how sick these people were. The people that were on the ground, they were kind of like dragging themselves to keep up with it, not keep up, but to maintain their place in line," he said.
Weesam Khoury, Communications Director for the Florida Department of Health, said she wants to assure people what happened Wednesday isn't representative of the state sites. She said they're working with the city to get all the resources the site needs so it can run efficiently and so this doesn't happen again.
Weesam said healthcare workers will make the call if someone seeking treatment is too sick, and she said ambulances are ready to take them to the hospital if needed.
Weesam said she also wanted to make it clear that monoclonal antibody treatment should not be seen as an alternative to vaccination, but as one more tool to help defeat the virus.
Lopez said he hopes his picture will cause more people to take COVID seriously.
"My message is please, people just protect yourself, because this thing is out there, and I think that this picture really illustrated how serious it is. And that's why I wanted to take that picture and share it," Lopez said.
He said it's unfortunate how things have "gotten out so out of hand" with the pandemic.
"The reality is, regardless of where this illness came from, it's a virus and it makes you sick. And when we get sick, we go to the doctor, they gave us medicine, and when they give us medicine, we take it, and we hope to get well. I mean, isn't that the way we've always done things, but now everybody wants to make it about this or that. And it's just a shame, and people are dying as a result of it," Lopez said.
The site is located at 304 North Main Street, the downtown library. It's open seven days a week 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to the city. No prescription or referral is needed, and it's free. The site at the library was opened Tuesday.
It was previously located on East Bay Street last week. Governor Ron DeSantis announced the site's opening last Thursday. The library site can treat more than 300 people daily. Those 12 and older who test positive for COVID, and those who are at high risk and are exposed to COVID can get the treatment.
Officials said Thursday's traffic was steady like Wednesday's.