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Mobile units to provide free COVID-19 testing

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Sep 16, 2020

County Commissioner Brian Hamman speaks while standing in front of a mobile walk-up COVID-19 testing and flu immunization unit Thursday at the North Fort Myers Community Pool. CHUCK BALLARO

news@breezenewspapers.com With fall coming, the need to boost the ability to provide COVID-19 testing and flu shots has never been greater.

The Florida Department of Health in Lee County, in partnership with Lee County Government, is looking to make it a little bit easier to do both.

During the month of September, free walk-up COVID-19 testing throughout Lee County will be provided, as will the ability to get flu shots, especially urged in light of the pandemic.

Commissioner Brian Hamman, along with representatives from DOH-Lee, announced the new test sites Thursday at a news conference at the North Fort Myers Community Pool, which also served as a testing site throughout the morning and early afternoon.

“One of the great things that has come from this pandemic is the partnership we have is stronger than it’s ever been,” Hamman said. “With their help, we’ve been able to provide COVID testing every Tuesday and Thursday and we wanted to highlight the partnership.”

In June, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners allocated some CARES Act funding to repurpose a former ambulance and purchase two additional similar vehicles for DOH-Lee to use at test sites as well as in the future for potential mobile flu vaccinations.

The former ambulance is already operational, while the two other vehicles have been ordered and should arrive later this month, Hamman said.

DOH-Lee is also ramping up for the upcoming flu season and flu vaccinations. About 40 percent of Floridians get a flu shot annually, and with the pandemic still going on, it’s even more crucial.

The flu vaccine reduces the risk of influenza-related illness, hospitalization and death. Increasing flu vaccination also preserves valuable healthcare resources for COVID-19 and other conditions.

Hamman got a flu shot, saying the two times he didn’t get one, he ended up with the flu, including one year during Christmas.

The testing sites started operating in August and 901 tests had been collected as of Sept. 8. Staff will have 300 tests available at each site for anyone age 4 or older.

Testing is scheduled on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning at 9 a.m. and will continue, weather permitting, until 12:30 p.m.

Children under 4 will be referred for testing to DOH-Lee. There is no fee for the test, and no appointment or doctor’s order is necessary. Parking is limited at some sites. These are not drive-thru sites; attendees are asked to walk up to the testing area.

“The goal is to be ready for flu season, but also to have a stronger health department. As the county grows there will always be a public health need, and for folks who can’t make it to a doctor’s office or the drive-thru testing site, we’re bringing the resources to them,” Hamman said.

Locations on the schedule are at municipal parks, with Lee County EMS and Florida DOH-Lee staff conducting the tests and accompanying paperwork. Selected sites are spread throughout the county.

The mobile testing site will be back locally at Kurt Donaldson Park on Tuesday, Sept. 29, at 9 a.m. Future schedules have not been posted.