UF Health launches COVID-19 research project at The Villages

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced on March 23 that a COVID-19 testing research project has been launched in The Villages community in Central Florida.

The project involves administering 2,000 tests weekly to symptomatic and asymptomatic residents of an area made up of a majority of citizens over the age of 65 and who are most vulnerable to succumbing to the virus.

Gov. DeSantis said the project was launched to, “Get a better sense of what is going on with this virus.

“The more data and facts we can apply to this the better the measures to protect people,” DeSantis said as he announced the partnering effort between The Villages and UF Shands.

Quotable

“What we are doing today is very important,” he said. Not only are we screening people who meet the CDC criteria, we are also doing a research study that is looking at asymptomatic carriage of the virus. Some people have the virus but don’t really show the symptoms. The research here is going to show us a lot more about what is going on with transmission.”

–Dr. Michael Lauzardo

The site will be a drive thru tailor made for The Villages as it allows cars or golf carts to drive up.

According to DeSantis, the research team is made up of 25 volunteer UF Health medical professionals, Villages Health personnel and over 100 volunteer UF medical physician and nursing assistants who will work together to operate the testing site.

The first step to get tested for the study is to enter information for prescreening at UFhealthCOVID.com.

This testing site is testing patients with or without COVID-19 symptoms for the study.

“When testing people you are typically looking for symptoms,” DeSantis said. “This will broaden (who gets tested) if you do not meet even broad screening criteria, you can still elect to have your sample tested to determine how prevalent COVID-19 is on asymptomatic individuals. This will help give us data on how it is spread.

The staff will take 2,000 samples this week collecting 400 per day. UF Shands will operate the testing from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. starting March 24.

The results will be delivered within 24 hours with lab work being executed at the University of Florida.

“When this all started every sample had to be sent to Atlanta,” DeSantis said. “We then certified three state labs,” he added and heralded being able to take advantage of the University of Florida testing site.

Dr. Michael Lauzardo, emphasized that testing priority in the State still remains with symptomatic patients and health professionals. 

“What we are doing today is very important,” he said. Not only are we screening people who meet the CDC criteria, we are also doing a research study that is looking at asymptomatic carriage of the virus.

“Some people have the virus but don’t really show the symptoms. The research here is going to show us a lot more about what is going on with transmission. We are proud to be part of this effort and we’ll stick with the community 

Dr. Lauzardo is an associate professor at UF within the division of infectious diseases and global medicine. He also serves as the director of the CDC funded Southeastern National Tuberculosis Center (SNTC) at the University of Florida.

Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management Jared Moskowitz emphasized the vulnerability of seniors to COVID-19

“This is a virus that significantly impacts our seniors in their golden years,” he said and urged people to check on elderly neighbors, maintain social distancing and act with compassion.

“It’s going to take everybody,” he said. “You can be a hero by making sure we are taking care of the elderly.”

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