Officials urge diligence amid promising results

Esther Blondeau-Lecomte, right, with the University of Florida College of Medicine, performs a coronavirus test Tuesday on a local resident at the drive-thru screening site at The Villages Polo Club.

Only eight out of more than 1,000 people tested at UFHealth testing site in The Villages have the coronavirus, results of the first days of testing show. All positive cases — one in Lake County, one in Marion County and six in Sumter County — were found among the 420 symptomatic people who were given an FDA-approved clinical test Monday through Wednesday at a drive-thru test site at The Villages Polo Club. No positive cases have been found in the approximately 600 other asymptomatic people who received testing through a UFHealth research project Monday and Tuesday, a finding critical to understanding how the virus spreads. Results from the other days of testing will be published as they become available. “We are continuing to closely monitor the situation,” said Dr. Michael Lauzardo, deputy chief of the University of Florida Emerging Pathogens Institute and an associate professor of infectious diseases and global medicine at UF’s College of Medicine. “Everyone needs to do their part to double down on social distancing and other appropriate behaviors like frequent handwashing in an effort to reduce the risk of further transmission.”

The initial results suggest residents who are used to large social gatherings are taking that advice seriously, said Dr. Elliot Sussman, chairman of The Villages Health, which is collaborating with UF Health on the testing.

“It is clear that we have coronavirus in our community,” Sussman said. “We will all benefit if we can stop it. The best way is to socially distance and to self-quarantine.”

Cases in the tri-county area are rising, but the number remains low compared to the hardest-hit urban counties like Miami-Dade, which reported 849 cases of the state’s 3,198 on Friday night.

In total, 29 cases have been confirmed in Sumter County, 27 in Lake and 9 in Marion.

An aim of the research project pioneered at the testing site here is to learn about the role asymptomatic people play in the virus’ spread, which is not currently known.

“The answer to that question is not just important to us in The Villages, but it’s important to policy makers across the United States,” Sussman said.

The testing site is now closed but hopes to reopen once supplies become available, Sussman said.

“The testing has been incredibly efficient and well-organized, and could certainly serve as a model for future testing of large populations,” said David R. Nelson, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health. “I’m extraordinarily proud of the health care providers and volunteer medical, physician assistant and nursing students who have led this effort, and have very much appreciated the strong collaboration with the Villages Health primary care network, The Villages community, state health and emergency management officials and residents.”

Garry and Arlona Kolb, of the Village of Briar Meadow, both received negative results from testing they sought after learning a fellow cruise ship passenger had tested positive.

“Everyone was super-friendly, super-polite, super-professional. We were really impressed with all of the UF staff,” Garry said.

Carla VandeWeerd, director of research for The Villages Health, praised the community’s willingness to participate in the both arms of the testing.

“I think it really is a testament to our community and how much we value good health,” she said.

Senior writer Ciara Varone can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5395, or ciara.varone@thevillagesmedia.com.