A Florida Health Department worker collects a test. CONTRIBUTED

From urgent care facilities and private doctors to CHI, testing capabilities have expanded from Key Largo to Key West. 

As a reopening of the Keys nears, the Florida Health Department and Bob Eadie, health officer for Monroe County, said they’re standing by with a sufficient supply of nasal swab, or PCR, tests in the event there’s a surge. Meanwhile, emergency response personnel are being trained in case they’re needed to help trace contacts. 

A total of 2,550 tests have been performed in Monroe County since the coronavirus pandemic broke out in March. Of those, 107 came back positive and 2,443 negative for a 4.2% positivity rate, per health department data on May 27. 

From May 17-24, a total of 618 tests came back from labs. Six were found to be positive during that time, while the rest were negative. 

Securing tests during the pandemic’s outset was no easy task for doctors around the country and locally. Whenever tests were in hand, Dr. John Norris would go door-to-door in Key West to swab people who were sick and didn’t have the means to pay. 

“When we started this pandemic, you couldn’t get tests. Literally, I begged for five,” said Norris, who also serves as chief of staff at Lower Keys Medical Center.  

Today, more tests are making their way to doctors’ offices. Just last week, emergency management brought Norris 50 swabs, he said. 

Eadie said the health department has more than 200 swab tests in stock in case the Keys witness some sort of surge as visitors begin to come down on June 1. 

“Right now, the health department is still holding out for those who have symptoms or who have had contact with someone who’s been diagnosed with COVID-19,” Eadie said. “Those that need to be tested, there’s adequate sites throughout the county.”

With testing also comes the need for contact tracing. Eadie told county officials that the health department is developing a manual for the EMS community so they can conduct tracing within their jurisdiction.

“We will be training EMS personnel to do the contact tracing, if indeed that need should arise and the number of cases exceeds the number of contact tracers on the health department side right now,” he said. 

Since day one of the pandemic, epidemiologists from the department of health have been the only group conducting in-depth contact tracing with all confirmed cases in Monroe County, with the formulation of a timeline of when their illness started and communicating with all close contacts of such cases. Calls are made to confirmed cases and their close contacts daily. 

A majority of positive cases reported in the county recently have come from Crystal Health & Rehab Center in Tavernier, where more than 20 residents and staff have been confirmed with COVID-19. Nursing homes and senior residence facilities have been major points of concern throughout the pandemic. Nursing homes remain closed to visitors. 

Locally, Eadie said a state incident management team is conducting testing at all senior residence facilities in Monroe County.

“They will continue through Friday morning, and then we will have had all those facilities tested. We’ll have some sort of benchmark before we open back to citizens from elsewhere,” he said.”

With PCR tests (which show current COVID-19 infection) has also come more antibody testing in the Keys. In the Upper Keys, more than 800 antibody tests were secured thanks to Dr. Bruce Boros, of Advanced Urgent Care in Key Largo, Dr. Stan Zuba, Good Health Clinic and executive director Kate Banick, and Key Largo resident Marlen Weeks. Of those tests, Boros’ urgent care facility in Key Largo received 500 tests. New and existing patients can call to pre-register. Good Health Clinic received around 375 tests, which will be used for its clients of low income. Banick said they also partnered with Zuba to test around 75 in the general population.    

“For us to remain safe, we have to test and know statistically how many people are at risk when we open June 1,” Zuba told Islamorada council members, who were contemplating providing antibody testing for the community, during a May 22 meeting. “We need to do antibody testing. It will give us statistical numbers to see how many people are still susceptible.”

Zuba said he recently performed tests on behalf of Good Health Clinic at a nonprofit. Those he tested came back negative.

“Less than 2% is turning out to be positive for antibodies,” he said.

PCR viral tests — or polymerase chain reaction — tell people if they have a current infection. It may take between two and seven days to get results. Testing is done through the nose or throat. 

Antibody tests tell if someone had a previous infection. This rapid test can provide results within 10 minutes in some cases. This test may not be able to show current infection. Testing is done via finger prick or blood draw. A viral test may still be needed to ensure you are not infectious. It is unknown if having antibodies to COVID-19 can protect from infection again, or how long the protection may last, the health department said.

Those interested in getting the antibody test can contact their local doctor’s office or health care facility to learn more about the process and costs. 

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