Testing offered in Okeechobee

OKEECHOBEE — Free COVID-19 testing in Okeechobee — available to anyone who wanted to be tested — on June 12 got off to a slow start, but the steady stream of Okeechobee community members who turned out to be tested between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. ensured the day’s success, with more than 500 test samples collected.

Lake Okeechobee News/ Katrina Elsken

Collection started on time at 9 a.m. under awnings set up in City Hall Park. However, the state’s mobile testing lab was not on site until around 9:30 a.m.

The mobile unit was in Okeechobee on time, but it stalled at the city’s main intersection of U.S. 441 and State Road 70, where it apparently ran out of gas. The heavy RV gets only about 8 miles to the gallon.

Those who lined up for testing were required to wear masks, which were provided if needed.

Medical personnel on site collected samples, which involved inserting a swab deep into the subject’s nasal cavity. The soft bristles at the end of the swab collect a sample of secretions for analysis. For the test to be accurate, cells and fluids must be collected from along the entire passageway that connects the base of the nose to the back of the throat.

Some who were tested joked about the swab going all the way to their brains. Others said it hurt “a little bit.” A few expressed the desire to blow their noses afterwards.

What will the 500 additional tests mean for the county’s COVID-19 numbers? That could be difficult to decipher. Okeechobee Health Care Facility staff — who have already been tested twice — were among those tested at the mobile visit. The governor’s third phase of reopening the state includes regular COVID-19 testing for those who work at long-term care facilities.

On June 15, OHCF reported six of the OHCF employees who went to the mobile visit on Friday tested positive. None of these OHCF staff members had symptoms.

For those who could not make it to the mobile testing, on Saturday, June 20, the Okeechobee County Health Department will provide free testing with no criteria required. There will be drive-thru testing from 7 to 10 a.m. Participants will stay in their vehicles. No appointments will be necessary.

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