Pre-holiday testing plentiful in Villages

Amanda Jones, of the Sumter County Health Department takes samples during COVID-19 testing. The screening is by appointment only at each of its offices.

Surging coronavirus cases are causing long lines to reemerge as the country’s testing availabilty struggles to keep up. The U.S. outbreak has swelled past 11.5 million and 250,000 deaths, and it all comes as families prepare to travel for Thanksgiving, against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. The U.S. is testing over 1.5 million people per day on average, more than double the rate in July. Yet COVID-19 testing in The Villages has not resulted in long lines or a lack of availability because virus numbers remain relatively in check. A leading physician credits the due diligence of residents to take conditions seriously.

“The community has been incredibly responsive to the pandemic,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lowenkron, The Villages Health’s chief medical officer. “People think it’s serious. There is an acknowledgement that, yes, social distancing is wearing on people. They’re getting tired of it, but they’re still wearing masks and washing their hands.”

Current conditions mean fewer requests for testing. It’s a contrast when their care centers started testing in late September.

“We were scheduling people at five-minute intervals, 12 tests per hour,” he said.

If demand shifts, The Villages Health is ready to respond, Lowenkron said.

Two reasons account for the decrease in demand for these rapid tests that typically provide the person tested with results by the end of the day, Lowenkron said.

Second, the number of COVID-19 positives remains well within manageable levels, he said.

“We are seeing a little bit of an increase in the number of people testing positive over the past couple of days,” Lowenkron said.

The test positive rate inched up the past couple of days to about 7% of the total population, but below the peak of 7.5% earlier this summer, he said.

“But we’ve been averaging around a 3%-5% positive rate,” Lowenkron said.

If local numbers start to mirror other locations across the country, The Villages Health is prepared.

“If it goes up, we’ll increase the number of slots,” he said. “Typically, we could do that the next day.”

The Florida Department of Health reported 9,085 new cases of COVID-19 in Florida as of Wednesday, including 17 new cases in Sumter County, 60 in Lake County and 114 in Marion County.

On Thursday, UF Health The Villages Hospital had 12 coronavirus-related patients hospitalized and UF Health Leesburg had 15, according to hospital officials.

“They have plenty of bed capacity; they have plenty of capacity in the intensive care units,” Lowenkron said.

The Villages Health has no direct ties to the hospitals but receives updates from its community medical partner. Lowenkron said those numbers coming from hospital officials should offer some comfort to anyone worried about COVID-19 in the community.

“The key here is we’re nowhere near to being pushed to capacity or panic stage,” he said. “Caution, yes, panic no. People have responded very well. We realize the duration of this is frustrating people, but they’re doing the right thing. That’s why the numbers in the community are being maintained.”

The Villages is bucking national trends.

Experts like Johns Hopkins University researcher Gigi Gronvall said the U.S. still falls far short of what’s needed to control the virus. Gronvall said the current testing rate “is on its way, but it’s nowhere close to what’s needed to shift the course of this epidemic.”

Many experts have called for anywhere between 4 million and 15 million daily tests to suppress the virus. Travelers added to testing demand as some states, like Massachusetts, require visitors to quarantine for two weeks or show proof of a negative test.

Where to Test

The Villages Health offers drive-thru antigen rapid COVID-19 tests with results within 15 minutes at its Creekside and Brownwood primary care centers. Appointments are required and are made available on a first-come, first-served basis each morning at 9 a.m. for all open testing slots available the following day. For information, visit tvhcovidtest.com.

For a test without an appointment, Paramount Urgent Care in Lady Lake accepts walk-ins, and test results are available in three to four hours. Wait times during the testing process depend on patient demand.

Genesis Labs will also accept patients without an appointment at its mobile testing site next to the Wawa on U.S. Highway 441 in Summerfield for drive-up testing with results available same day or next day. Genesis Labs also offers a 15-minute antibody test to determine if you have been infected in the past.

The Florida Department of Health operates three testing sites in Sumter County. Appointments are required for drive-thru testing at locations in The Villages, Wildwood and Bushnell. Test results will be available within three to five days.

The Villages VA Outpatient Clinic provides testing for veterans enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs health care. Eligible veterans must schedule an appointment either through the agency’s secure messaging system or by calling 352-674-5000.

The FDA announced Tuesday it was approving emergency use authorization for Lucira COVID-19 All-In-One Test Kit, an at-home testing option. The test is currently authorized for prescription use only, with results generated in approximately 30 minutes.

Specialty Editor David R. Corder can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com. Specialty Editor Keith Pearlman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5347, or keith.pearlman@thevillagesmedia.com.