Bay County residents who think they’ve been infected with the coronavirus have another option for testing. In addition to the health department and local hospitals, PanCare of Florida, a nonprofit health care agency, has begun screening people over the phone and scheduling appointments for high-risk patients.
Residents with a fever, cough or shortness of breath are urged to call the agency’s hotline, especially if they’ve recently traveled abroad, boarded a cruise ship or interacted with someone who’s tested positive for the coronavirus.
People who are 65 years old or older and have pre-existing health conditions, along with those who have weakened immune systems, can also get tested if they’re experiencing symptoms of the virus, said Ashley Kelley, the agency's spokeswoman. Those pre-existing conditions include “respiratory issues - COPD, asthma, diabetes” and other illnesses that make it harder for the body to fight off the virus, she said.
On Monday, the agency began screening people. Since then, the phone lines have been busy, Kelley said. About a third of the people who've called meet the criteria for testing, she said.
If patients qualify for testing, they’re given an appointment at a separate location from the agency’s health clinics.
Lack of insurance won't prevent people from getting tested, she said.
Of the 41 people who've so far been tested for COVID-19 in the county, three people have tested positive, 37 results were negative and one is still pending, according to the Florida Department of Health.
PanCare Health plans to open three more testing sites that will serve nine additional counties in the region. One of those sites will be located in Jackson County, Kelley said. The agency is still working on locations for the other two sites, she said.
For those who are experiencing coronavirus symptoms, “it’s really important that you don’t go into a clinic or any public facility at all,” Kelley said. Instead, she urges them to call the center’s hotline, to prevent health care workers and other patients from getting sick.
"None of our clinics have testing kits available," Kelley said. "We don’t want them to show up there to get tested."
Right now, the agency’s goal is to test an average of 40 people per day, she said. Soon, the agency expects to get more test kits that deliver results faster. The response time for the current tests is about four-to-seven days, Kelley said.
If someone tests positive for the virus, clinicians will ask them to self-isolate and monitor their symptoms. Kelley emphasizes that anyone who’s having trouble breathing should “call the hospital first and let them know that you have been tested and that you’ve either tested negative or positive or you’re pending results, that way the hospital is prepared for your arrival.”
Because not everyone experiencing coronavirus symptoms can get tested at this time, Kelley stresses that people need to avoid public places if they’re sick.
“We don’t want this to continue to spread,” she said. “We want to try to contain it as much as possible.”
PanCare of Florida's COVID-19 hotline is: 850-215-4181. People can also call the Florida Dept. of Health's COVID-19 at: 1-866-779-6121.