Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that he doesn’t yet want to order Floridians to stay home as several other states have done, favoring social distancing to stem coronavirus infections without causing unnecessary financial hardship or creating unintended consequences such as people fleeing the state and spreading the disease. In his most drastic move yet, DeSantis announced criminal penalties for anyone who arrives in Florida on flights from the New York City area and refuses to self-isolate for 14 days. Earlier in the day, DeSantis visited a new drive-thru testing site at The Villages Polo Club and praised the collaboration between UF Health, The Villages Health and state officials. “This community has really responded and done a lot to protect themselves,” he said. “We really appreciate all our seniors. We really want to get past this period and let everyone enjoy Florida’s Friendliest Hometown again.”
Volunteers collected samples forFood and Drug Administration-approved clinical tests from 120 residents who had symptoms, traveled to an affected area or had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
Samples from 300 people without symptoms who were still concerned about exposure were taken for testing that is part of a UF Health research project.
The Villages joins two other large-scale testing sites in Florida: One at the Jaguars’ TIAA Bank Stadium in Jacksonville and another at the Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. A fourth testing site is set to open Wednesday at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.
DeSantis said the goal for The Villages site is to process 2,000 tests.
He was joined by Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, UF President Kent Fuchs and Dr. Michael Lauzardo, deputy director of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute and a professor in the division of infectious diseases and global medicine.
Florida is working on the largest logistics campaign the state has ever seen, Moskowitz said, dwarfing what has been seen in past state emergencies such as hurricanes Michael or Irma “by some fold.”
Volunteers like third-year UF medical students Nate Breslin and Bair Diamond said they were grateful to feel useful, bringing water bottles and other supplies to students stationed at tents, and shuttling collected samples back to shaded pavilions.
Before this opportunity, Diamond said most of the students were doing classwork online.
“What we’re supposed to do is be in hospitals or be in clinics learning from doctors,” he said. “All that’s on hold right now, so we really have been feeling kind of useless this last week. It’s nice to be able to get out here and do something that’s positive.”
Alex Dang, another third-year medical student who directed patients to their assigned tents, agreed.
“This is not a time to shy away from helping people,” he said. “This is exactly why I went into health care.”
Lauzardo said he was thrilled with how the first day of testing went.
“Those who went through the research side, they get it,” he said. “They were doing this not out of anxiety or fear. They really want to contribute.”
He praised the work of the volunteers for a successful first day.
“It’s nothing short of inspirational to watch them,” Lauzardo said. “They say we’re their mentors, but I think they’re setting a great example.”
Testing will continue as supplies last, at least through Friday. The site is by appointment only, and those wishing to participate can sign up online at ufhealthcovid.com. Anyone can use the site, not just Villages residents.