The skies were foreboding Saturday morning as the clock ticked closer to the 9 AM start for the free COVID-19 testing at Veterans Community Park. In fact, by 8:40 AM, vehicles wound all the way back from Veterans Park, down West Elkcam Circle to Collier Boulevard. There were 250 tests advertised as available for the event.
Trey Fletcher, Vice President of Administration and General Counsel for Healthcare Network was on hand for the event and actually said the turnout was somewhat smaller than he expected. He came prepared by bringing more tests than advertised.
“It’s probably a little bit smaller than we expected,” Fletcher said. “We didn’t actually hit capacity first thing in the morning,” he added with a slightly surprised laugh. “We expect to do over 300 tests today. We always want to make sure we put out a number that we can meet. We never ever want to set out with testing and set an unrealistic expectation for the community. If you bring testing supplies, and you’re there, people are going to come. We want to make sure when people are showing up that they know we’re going to hit a point where we can’t provide any more tests. It’s a very thin line to walk, and it’s difficult to turn anybody away from testing. We do all we can.”
Fletcher said there is a reason why the crowd at Marco was smaller than some he’s seen. It basically boils down to the availability of more free testing. Just because the testing took place on Marco Island, it was not available to Marco residents exclusively.
“I owe that a lot to the Department of Health,” Fletcher said. “The Department of Health ran community testing in Golden Gate City as a walk-up yesterday. And they’re also running a drive-thru testing at our facility in Golden Gate this morning. With our powers combined, it probably lessened the burden on this testing site by splitting it up between the two. We set out today to provide testing for COVID-19 for the Marco Island community. We’ve found at our other testing’s that we get folks from all over.”
Fletcher said the goal is to bring folks knowledge. “You can sleep better at night if you know that there’s availability of testing—and we want folks to know. So if you are positive, you can follow CDC guidelines and make sure you socially distance and self-quarantine if possible.”
Similar to when 30,000 masks were given away back in April, Marco police routed traffic down West Elkcam and into Veterans Park. All other entrances to the park were blocked by police officers. Consequently, traffic flowed smoothly as cars inched forward toward the testing site.
“We’re really fortunate to have help from Marco Island police and the fire and emergency rescue as well as the City of Marco Island and the Marco Island Rotary,” Fletcher said. “We’re really excited to have all of this support. We brought over 20 staff members and it looks like there are probably close to 30 volunteers.”
Fletcher said that the testing was not limited to those showing symptoms. So was the crowd at Marco symptomatic, asymptomatic, or just being cautious?
“I think it’s a mixture,” Fletcher reasoned. “Some folks believe that they might be symptomatic. We get a lot of folks who, just for safety, want to get tested. There are asymptomatic carriers and things like that. There’s a lot of science out there on this. So it’s really important that folks have the availability to be tested.”
Those being tested at the Marco site were not asked whether they were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
“If we were testing in-clinic today, we’d be collecting that data,” he explained. “For the community events it doesn’t matter or not if you’re symptomatic—so we don’t ask. The important thing for us here is to get folks in and get them tested.”
The results of the test are expected to be available in 3-5 business days.
Fletcher said the testing events will continue.
“Absolutely,” Fletcher enthused, “we will have another planned in Golden Gate at our building, at the corner of Green and Collier Boulevard. And we’re planning other community events as we go. We are absolutely committed, in conjunction with the department of health, to making sure people in Collier County get tested.”
There is a clear message that Fletcher wants to send to the people of Marco Island and beyond.
“The really important thing is to wear a mask,” Fletcher said matter-of-factly. “There’s a lot you can do by getting tested and finding out whether or not you have COVID-19. But there’s a lot you can do without getting tested: wearing a mask, following CDC guidelines, socially distancing. It’s huge and it can go a really long way in helping us contain the spread of this virus.”