COVID-19 testing: We’ve come a long way

The parking garage at UF Health Springhill was a different scene back in April when COVID-19 testing was new to Alachua County and test results took up to a week to get back.

There were 10 stations with ­­blue curtains and white sides lined up for testing. You checked in at the first station and verified your appointment. Then, you moved on to face that giant nasal swab that felt like it touched your brain as the nurse inserted it into your nostril and collected the sample.

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Eyes teared up and you shook it off after it was over and then you waited several days to a week for results.

Those test areas lined up were on notice that Alachua County was facing an enemy and all hands were on deck.

Since then, there have been 14,468 positive COVID-19 cases in Alachua County, 694 hospitalizations and 110 deaths as of Dec. 18th.

Wow, have things changed. 

A visit to the same facility off NW 39th Avenue in Gainesville on Dec. 17th yielded a whole new experience.

Upon arriving at the turn to the same parking garage turned testing site there is a much welcomed new sign directing patients to “Vaccines By Appointment Only.”

Starting Dec. 16th, UF Health health care workers started receiving the first part of the two-part Pfizer vaccine.

Now in this same garage that was a testing only site for months, two tents and a health care worker wait for Phase 1 vaccine recipients to come through for their dose which will need a follow up inoculation in 17 to 21 days.

UF Health’s vaccination program became fully operational in Gainesville on Thursday, expanding from two to three locations with 3,500 doses on hand.

Beyond the addition of the vaccine tents, a lot more has changed in the administering of the COVID-19 test at this site.

On Oct. 26th, the UF Health Springhill testing location started administering COVID-19 saliva tests which are less invasive than the original nasal swab testing procedure.

A health care worker greets you upon arrival at the check-in station and verifies your name, birthdate and your appointment time.

Then your order is folded and slipped under a windshield wiper as you are directed to the sample collection station. 

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You verify your information on a vial and are instructed to conjure up 2 milliliters of saliva.

With a short straw as your tool, you are directed to park in a testing space and once you have collected your sample, you turn on your hazard lights to signal the specimen is ready for collection.

This new process allows for no maskless time spent with the patient and the health care worker, and is less painful and intrusive.

Results come within 24 to 48 hours in the forms of a text message and an email directly to the patient’s account information.

That text message will direct you to join the FDOH’s partner app Healthy Together to unlock your results and add your outcome to the FDOH database within the app.

To download the app in preparation of your results, click here. https://apps.apple.com/us/app/healthy-together-covid-19/id1507570835

Once you create an account on this app, you can access information about the Florida’s COVID-19 response including what to do if you  have been exposed, Florida’s Response Plan, latest trends in and county statistics on Florida COVID-19 Dashboard, and a link to the COVID-19 call center which is available 24/7.

What may not be different in this experience is the health care personnel you interact with during the testing process. Some have been stationed at this facility since the beginning of the pandemic and if you look at the eyes behind the mask, don’t be surprised if you see the same person taking care of you.

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