The Florida National Guard and the Division of Emergency Management (DEM) have opened their 10th COVID-19 drive-thru testing facility, this one in Pensacola.
By the time Gov. Ron DeSantis made the trip across North Florida, after announcing in Jacksonville that state parks would open next week, the Pensacola site was testing drivers.
The facility, tents erected in the University of West Florida Softball Complex parking lot, will be the first state-operated drive-thru facility located west of Hillsborough County. The National Guard, DEM and Escambia and Santa Rosa counties will operate the facility’s two lanes, which will start with a capacity of 400 tests per day.
“I know they’ve done a good job at the hospitals here and there have been other things, but we want to make sure that we have as many opportunities for testing as we possibly can,” DeSantis said.
As of Friday, 532 people have tested positive in Escambia County, 12 have died and 43 have been hospitalized. In neighboring Santa Rosa County, 158 have tested positive, eight have died and 22 have been hospitalized.
Statewide, 34,728 people have tested positive, 1,314 have died and 5,767 have been hospitalized for COVID-19.
The three counties with the most cases, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, each have two drive-thru testing sites after a site opened in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday. Duval, Hillsborough and Orange counties each have one testing facility.
“You have places like Northwest Florida that’s a lot different than a New York City or a Chicago or some of these other places,” DeSantis said. “But if you see a cluster develop, we use testing and then we can go in and isolate people so they don’t affect other people.”
Next week, three more sites will open to serve Lee, Sarasota, Manatee and Miami-Dade counties. Sarasota and Manatee counties will share a site at University Town Center mall, opening early in the week.
Other cities and counties have opened their own testing facilities outside of DEM and the National Guard’s direct control. The state has also picked up three facilities that were formerly federally-supported.
If demand in the Pensacola area exceeds the 400 daily tests, DeSantis says he can dedicate more testing there. Anyone of any age, even those who haven’t shown symptoms yet but believe they could have been exposed, are welcomed for testing.
Between Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, more than 10,000 people have been tested.
Statewide, the state’s testing capacity outweighs the demand for tests, which the Governor said shows there aren’t people who want to be tested who have not been. In order to find people who have not been tested, the state has opened seven walk-up testing sites in underserved communities.
In Florida, more than 400,000 people have received test results. Nearly 100,000 of those were tested in drive-thru facilities.
DeSantis spoke alongside Rep. Matt Gaetz, who represents Pensacola in the U.S. House of Representatives. Gaetz defended the Governor against media criticism over his handling of the pandemic. The Republican Congressman said DeSantis should have been recognized for aggressively pushing for supplies from the federal government.
“I was grateful that the Miami Herald was laudatory in their praise on the Congressional Delegation, but they criticized you, which was odd, because it was your administration that actually built the lists that we used to go and get the stuff from the federal government for our hospital systems and for our front-line providers.”
The Governor interrupted: “Do you have any reason — why, why would that be the case? I just can’t imagine why that would be the case. Man, we’re going to have to get Inspector Clouseau out on that one.”