Frustrated Villagers want answers about COVID-19 testing site at the polo fields

Consternation boiled over this week as exasperated Villagers sought answers about the UF Health Coronavirus drive-through testing site at the polo fields.

Several upset residents were hoping to get tested at the site that reportedly wasn’t available for late Villager Carol Lynch to get a much-needed test. The Village of Winifred resident died of COVID-19 last Thursday at UF Health The Villages Hospital.

The COVID-19 research testing site at The Villages Polo Fields wasn’t open on Tuesday – a fact that wasn’t made known to Villagers who were seeking tests.

Village of Briar Meadow South resident Priscilla Maday wrote in a March 25 Letter to Editor to Villages-News.com that she had driven to the polo fields on the first day of testing to secure an appointment but was sent home to fill out a form online at https://ufhealthcovid.com/. She did that and was told no time slots were available. She tried again the next morning and said she was first told to pick another time and then told no slots were available.

“It’s so discouraging,” she wrote.

Another Villager complained Tuesday about several residents having issues with the website as they sought appointments. The UF Health website doesn’t contain any information about when or if future tests will be available. Late Tuesday morning, the polo field site was dormant.

Part of the issue Villagers have faced is the fact that the majority of testing done at the site was for research purposes with area residents who weren’t showing any signs of having the virus. Those and a limited number of clinical tests were conducted using kits supplied by the University of Florida Infectious Disease Lab that have yet to receive FDA approval.

Villagers and other area residents were tested recently at the polo fields for the COVID-19 virus as part of a UF Health research effort. Many still are hoping to get tested but have been frustrated by a lack of information.

All told, UF Health reported conducting 2,280 tests, with 900 of those being for people who were showing symptoms. That means the majority – about 1,400 – were used on asymptomatic residents. At the end of the week, UF Health reported that 25 people – 23 showing symptoms and two who were not – tested positive for the virus.

Area residents also vented their frustrations when the testing was first announced as exclusively for Villagers. That initial plan cut out the thousands of retirees living in surrounding retirement communities like Del Webb Spruce Creek, Water Oak, Spruce Creek South and Stonecrest – to name a few.

That policy changed quickly when Gov. Ron DeSantis visited the site on March 23, which was opening day. During a press conference at the polo fields, he made it quite clear that all area residents were welcome to be tested there, even though golf cart traffic was encouraged.

But perhaps the biggest source of consternation for Villagers and area residents has been the UF Health COVID-19 webpage, which currently makes no mention of when and if testing still is being conducted. The site doesn’t include a phone number to call or an email address to receive further information – a fact that on Tuesday also was frustrating a UF Health employee who was seeking information about the polo fields testing location.

The UF Health Coronavirus testing site at The Villages Polo Field opened on March 23 and originally was billed as being strictly for residents of Florida’s Friendliest Hometown – a policy that quickly was changed when Gov. Ron DeSantis visited the site on opening day.

The website still encourages those seeking testing to fill out a form identifying “any and all” items that have applied to them in the past 14 days. Those include fever, cough, shortness of breath, international travel, cruise ship travel, close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, loss of taste or smell, extreme fatigue and travel to Washington state, California, New York or Louisiana. Residents also can check a box that reads “None of the Above Apply to Me.”

On Tuesday afternoon shortly after 5 p.m., a form was submitted that checked every box except the “None of the Above” item. A screen came back saying the person was “eligible for COVID-19 testing under the Clinical Research arm.” The person was told to select their Village if they were a resident of Florida’s Friendliest Hometown and after the form was submitted a second time, the person was told that no times currently were available.

Likewise, a person submitted a similar form stating he or she wasn’t showing any symptoms. A screen came back saying the person was “eligible for COVID-19 testing under the Research arm.” But again, when the appointment time was sought, the person was told no time slots were available.

It remained unclear on Tuesday whether more testing is even planned at the polo fields. It was believed that one or two more days could be conducted, but those tests supposedly were going to be only for those who weren’t showing any signs of the virus.

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