As the number of COVID-19 cases rises, more people are getting tested and seeking testing. Here’s a look at the state of testing in Lakeland and Polk County, where testing is available, and who can get tested.

The Florida Department of Health’s goal is to have 2 percent of the population tested each month, which for Polk County averages to about 14,000 tests each month and 500 tests each day.

“This amount will give us an idea of Covid through the population,” said Joy Jackson, director of the Polk County Health Department.

View current testing locations

Between June 9 and June 25, the number of tests reported in Polk County has exceeded 500 most days, according to data from the Florida Department of Health. Seven of those days showed more than 1,000 tests given, and only two days showed less than 500.

More testing sites coming

Getting tested is easier in some locations than others, so the Polk County Health Department is using $10 million from the county’s portion of the CARES Act to increase testing. The CARES Act is the federal aid package intended to help the U.S. recover from the economic toll of the pandemic.

New testing sites will be set up in areas that have had less than 2 percent of the population tested or in areas with populations that are more at risk for complications from COVID-19, based on factors such as age, race, and chronic diseases.

“We want to take testing to the people because not everyone has transportation,” Jackson said.

The sites will be in Lakeland, Mulberry, Fort Meade, Haines City, Davenport, Poinciana, Frostproof and Dundee. The Health Department is working with local hospitals to set up the sites, which they hope to begin opening in mid-July.

The times and addresses are not available yet. Once they’re decided, times and places will be promoted on social media, Jackson said. Florida’s state-supported testing locations are listed online here.

Anyone who goes to the sites will be able to get a test, even if they don’t have symptoms. Jackson said that testing has been limited because in the past they had shortages of testing supplies and labs, but now they have more available.

Viral testing

Those new sites will do viral testing to check for active COVID-19 infections.

Other sites around the county also do this test, which involves a nasal swab. Many of the sites require a doctor’s referral to get the test.

Lakeland Regional Health has three sites for COVID-19 testing: their emergency department, Respiratory Care Center, and a drive-through testing site. The latter two require a referral for testing because test supplies and lab availability fluctuate, although you can make an appointment or walk in to the Respiratory Care Center to get the referral and test on-site, according to Hal Escowitz, chief quality officer and chief medical informatics officer for Lakeland Regional Health.

“It’s been very challenging in that we’re at the mercy of the companies that develop the platforms, the testing supplies, and how much they allocate us, which seems to change week-to-week and month-to-month,” Escowitz said. “As we get busier in the community, it’ll absolutely become more challenging.”

When considering whether to give a patient a referral, a physician will ask the patient questions about possible symptoms and factors that would make them high risk, such as what type of work they do and whether they are immune-compromised.

Although a doctor can deny a test, Escowitz said, “Criteria that used to be very strict in the past has loosened up considerably.”

There are multiple versions of the test, including one that gives results in 15-30 minutes, and one that usually takes 2-6 days. Escowitz warned that the rapid test has had high numbers of false negatives, meaning it sometimes shows a patient does not have COVID-19 when they actually do. The slower tests, including 1-hour and 4-hour tests used at Lakeland Regional sites, are more reliable.

Most people’s health insurance plans cover the cost of the test, according to websites of COVID-19 test providers. BayCare’s website lists the cost of a test for someone with no insurance as $85. It also says payment is not due at testing and financial assistance may be available.

Some sites require you to stay in your car for the test, while others are done inside a doctor’s office.

CVS Health is offering drive-through testing in Lakeland at 5010 S. Florida Ave. and at 101 N. Wabash Ave. The company advises on its website that customers must be prepared to perform their own nasal swab or to bring someone with who can do it for them. That drive-through site is one of few that does not require a doctor’s referral.

Before making an appointment, the website asks you to check any symptoms or risk factors you have that are associated with COVID-19. Based on your answers, it might allow or deny your request for an appointment.

Joshua Sussman of Lakeland took a COVID-19 swab test before having a surgery done on his shoulder. He went to a drive-through testing site in Riverview, where his surgery was going to be performed. The test was routine to make sure he wasn’t sick before getting surgery.

“A lady came up and said, ‘Ok, this is going to be unpleasant. I’m going to swab up your nose, but a really long way, and I’m going to leave it there for five seconds,’” Sussman said.

“Unpleasant” is the right adjective to describe the sensation, Sussman said.

His test came back negative. If it had come back positive, the surgery would have been rescheduled.

According to FDOH’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard, 40,813 tests have been given in Polk County as of Thursday, with 2,571 positive tests and 37,598 negative tests. The overall positivity report for Polk is 6.4% as of Thursday, up from 4.9% a week earlier, according to FDOH calculations.

A new dashboard from former FDOH geographer Rebekah Jones shows 19,389 total people tested. That website, called Florida’s Community Coronavirus Dashboard, shows the same number of positive tests.

Jones has said her website shows different amount because the FDOH data includes multiple retests and duplicates. The difference in the total affects the calculation of the percentage of positive tests, a figure which has been used by the state to determine when an area is ready for reopening phases.

By Jones’ calculation, 13% of people tested in Polk had positive results as of Thursday, up from 9.8% a week earlier.

Antibody testing

Other sites test people’s blood for antibodies to see if a person had the infection in the past.

While several sites offer antibody testing, Jackson said it is not being pushed by the Health Department because they want to make sure the tests are accurate and reliable, and because research has not yet proven whether having the antibodies means a person is immune to the virus.

Escowitz added that the test can give people false security because some people are testing positive, showing that they’ve already had the virus, when they actually have not.

“Over time, I suspect antibody tests, particularly as their reliability is better tested to make sure they’re good tests, will be important from a public health standpoint to give us an idea of what percentage of the population has been exposed to the virus,” Jackson said.

Most sites require a doctor’s referral and appointment for the blood test. Quest Diagnostics allows you to purchase a test for $119 online if you don’t have a referral. And the OneBlood blood donation centers in Lakeland and Davenport are offering a free antibody test to people who donate whole blood, plasma, platelets, or double red blood cells.

Dorothy Lemming of Lakeland got a doctor’s referral for her antibody test at a local Quest lab.

Lemming wanted the test because she took a cruise in mid-February. A few days after getting home, she developed a sore throat, cough, malaise, muscle aches and a low-grade temperature. A couple weeks after the symptoms stopped, she asked her doctor about getting an antibody test.

“I wanted to have the antibodies test because if I had it, I would’ve felt safer,” she said. She also would have considered donating blood, as plasma with COVID-19 antibodies may be able to help patients fight the disease.

At first, Lemming wasn’t able to get the test because the lab said they didn’t have it. But she asked again and was able to get the test, which was free for her, three weeks ago. It came back negative.

According to FDOH data, 2,421 antibody tests have been given in Polk, as of June 19. Of those, only 96 were positive.

Prevention tips

Testing helps health experts understand the spread of the disease in the community, but Jackson urges people to try to prevent the spread by following CDC guidelines. Those include:

  • Staying home if you’re sick, unless you’re going to the doctor
  • Isolate yourself if you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19
  • Wear a mask if you are in public and cannot keep 6 feet or more from others
  • Avoid large groups
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Frequently clean surfaces that are touched often.

“We all need to take it on ourselves,” Jackson said. “I encourage folks to take on these actions that we all should be doing right now.”

Testing sites

Testing sites are sometimes added or closed, such as the RP Funding Center drive-through site that opened April 20 and closed June 20. In addition, temporary one- or two-day sites sometimes pop up.

As of June 22, testing was available at the following Polk County locations. A doctor can refer you to a testing site, or you can check the latest locations by visiting the websites of the Polk County Health Department, Lakeland Regional Health, BayCare, Advent Health, Quest, CVS, or Walgreens.

The Florida Community Coronavirus Dashboard includes some of the testing sites on its map in the tab that says “Get Tested.”

  • Lakeland Regional Health Respiratory Care Center, 320 Parkview Place, Lakeland
    Viral testing
    Doctor’s referral required. Referral can be obtained from a doctor on-site.
  • Lakeland Regional Health Drive-Thru Testing Center, Parking Lot N13, at West Lane and Morrell
    Viral testing
    Doctor’s referral and appointment required
  • Lakeland Regional Health Emergency Services, 1324 Lakeland Hills Boulevard
    Viral testing
    For moderate symptoms of COVID-19. Call 863-687-1100 for instructions before going.
  • Quest Diagnostics, 3037 Lakeland Hills Blvd., Suite 1, Lakeland
    Antibody testing
    Doctor’s referral and appointment required, or if you don’t have a referral you can purchase a test and schedule an appointment online
  • Lakeland Hills Donor Center, 3200 Lakeland Hills Blvd., Lakeland
    Antibody testing
    Appointment required. Whole blood, plasma, platelet, or double red blood cell donation required.
  • CVS Health, 5010 S. Florida Ave. and 101 N. Wabash Ave., Lakeland
    Viral testing
    Appointment required. Drive-through testing only; you must stay in your vehicle.
  • Quest Diagnostics, 4708 Exploration Ave., Lakeland
    Antibody testing
    Doctor’s referral and appointment required, or if you don’t have a referral you can purchase a test and schedule an appointment online
  • Bartow Regional Medical Center, 2200 Osprey Blvd., Bartow
    Viral testing
    Drive-through testing located behind the hospital
  • LabCorp at Walgreens, 501 Havendale Blvd., Auburndale
    Antibody testing
    Appointment required
  • Quest Diagnostics, 161 Webb Drive, Suite 300, Davenport
    Antibody testing
    Doctor’s referral and appointment required, or if you don’t have a referral you can purchase a test and schedule an appointment online
  • Davenport Donor Center, 39861 U.S. 27, Davenport
    Antibody testing
    Appointment required. Whole blood, plasma, platelet, or double red blood cell donation required.
  • BayCare Urgent Care, 36245 U.S. 27, Haines City
    Viral testing
    Doctor’s referral and appointment required
  • LabCorp at Walgreens, 805 Havendale Blvd., Winter Haven
    Antibody testing
    Appointment required
  • Quest Diagnostics, 1372 Sixth St. NW, Winter Haven
    Antibody testing
    Doctor’s referral and appointment needed, or if you don’t have a referral you can purchase a test and schedule an appointment online
  • AdventHealth Centra Care, 7375 Cypress Gardens Blvd., Winter Haven
    Viral testing
    Appointment required
  • Quest Diagnostics, 1424 State Road 60 East, Lake Wales
    Antibody testing
    Doctor’s referral and appointment required, or if you don’t have a referral you can purchase a test and schedule an appointment online
  • Central Florida Health Care, varying locations
    Viral testing
    Walk-up and drive-through testing; free if you qualify

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1 Comment

  1. for what it is worth, even though checked off most of the criteria for the CVS COVID Testing, there are zero appointments available for 38 locations as far as 62 miles from 33810 over the next three days….

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