Okeechobee County short on COVID-19 test options for those who do not have symptoms

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee residents who need COVID-19 tests in order to return to work are having difficulty finding free test sites that will accept those who do not meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) criteria.

At the July 2 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission, Tiffany Collins of the Okeechobee Health Department said there are currently no plans for more free testing in Okeechobee County for those who do not meet the CDC criteria. Free testing is available for those who have symptoms and for first responders, high-risk individuals and health care professionals who think they may have been exposed.

The Walmart testing site has closed. CVS now offers testing but individuals must meet the CDC criteria. CVS does not charge the individual for testing, but does bill their health insurance.

Urgent Care offers testing for those without symptoms, but it is not free.

So far, only three free testing events open to anyone who wished to be tested have been offered in the county. The first, a June 13 visit by the state mobile testing lab, event drew 509 people, just over the advertised capacity of 500. The second free testing event, which was on the morning of June 20 at the health department, drew 268 people. The most recent event, at New St. Stephen AME Church on June 27, had to turn people away after they used up all 300 available test kits.

Collins said some people from Okeechobee County were driving to Florida Community Health Care in Indiantown to be tested, but she had heard that will soon be limited to Martin County residents. She advised anyone who planned to seek a test there to call in advance. Others had been driving to Pahokee for tests, but that site has also been closed.

She said no other free testing is planned for those who do not meet the CDC criteria.

“What do our people do, who need to go back to work and have to have a test?” asked Commissioner David Hazellief. He suggested using some of the CARES Act Funding to provide more free testing in Okeechobee County.

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