Free COVID-19 testing attracts enthusiastic residents to Bragg

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Since the outbreak of coronavirus more than two months ago, Nathaniel McNeil had been thinking about getting tested for COVID-19.

He got his chance last Saturday at the north end of Bragg Stadium, where FAMU and Bond Community Health Center joined forces to perform free testing. McNeil was one of 63 people who made an appointment.

When his name was called, he eagerly rushed to begin the testing, which lasted almost 20 minutes.

“I need this because I’ve been working and when I go out, I’m around a lot of people,” said McNeil, who lives off Apalachee Parkway. “They said free and I said I may as well come over here and get tested.”

McNeil, who said one of his friends paid $100 to be tested, is a construction worker. The environment he works in makes it mandatory that he took the test, he said.

“That’s scary,” said McNeil, wearing a mask. “You see a lot of things on the news, especially in New York. Everybody has got to get tested because you never know who’s got it.”

Bond CEO Dr. Temple Robinson (left), FAMU President Larry Robinson, and Cynthia Harris, director of the FAMU Institute of Public Health, at the opening of the COVID-19 testing site.
Photo courtesy FAMU Office of Communication

Gov. Ron DeSantis has been has been urging state health officials to ramp up testing. At the same time, data has shown that most of the confirmed cases of the repertory disease are reported in Black communities at a disproportionate level.

 A recent report showed that a majority of cases in the Tallahassee area are in the 32304 and 32308 zip codes, area with large Black communities. FAMU sits in the middle of the Southside, an area highly populated with Blacks.

“There has been a lot of talk about testing, testing,” said Pam Saulsby, Public Information Specialist for Florida Department of Health-Leon, “but the piece that missing is access to testing, which this allows.”

The free testing will continue through May 8, starting at 9 a.m. daily and going until 6 p.m. each day. Saturday’s opening drew 199 people and 191 showed up Sunday. The daily goal is to complete 200 tests, said Dr. Temple Robinson, CEO at Bond Community Health Center.

Dr. Temple Robinson, CEO at Bond Community Health Center, talks with reporters during Saturday’s COVID-19 testing.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

 Testing will be available for 2,800 people through the closing date.

Test results will be returned to them within 72 hours, Robinson said. She added in the case of a positive result that Leon County health department will attempt to track others who might have been in contact with the positive person. That person will be encouraged to quarantine for 14 days, she said. 

Although Saturday’s testing drew a large crowd, Robinson acknowledged that some people might have been apprehensive about testing. That, she said, is part of the reason that Bond partnered with FAMU to do the testing.

“It is just important that we put our arms around the people that we serve and that is letting them know that it’s important that they take it and that it is a safe test,” she said. “This is an airborne virus. It knows no country line (and) it knows no zip code area. 

“It’s just like the wind and whichever way it goes you’re just as likely as someone else to be exposed to it so it’s important that everyone in every area of town take advantage of this testing opportunity.”

The process is organized. People waited in a line to be directed through rows of orange cones to be tested. The process involves filling out some paperwork before being swabbed in the nose and throat.

Within an hour of starting the testing, Cynthia Harris, FAMU associate dean for Public Health, called it a success.

“The fact that we can provide this access without barrier to anybody that wants it, in my mind it’s already a success,” said Harris, who coordinated the event. “The success is rooted in the fact that we are helping someone who can be tested, know their status and prevent spread. They can take the appropriate action if they know what their testing results are.”

In addition to being unable to afford the cost of testing, data also show that Blacks generally have underlying health issues that puts them a higher risk of contracting the disease. However, this testing isn’t only free but it doesn’t require a doctor’s referral.

 “The important thing is to have it here where it’s accessible to people who might not have the means to get around to other places where this is being offered,” said FAMU President Larry Robinson.

He added that FAMU has put plenty of resources, including personnel, into making the testing happen.

A “vast number of people” are involved, Robinson said. “I wouldn’t want to put a dollar value on it because what we are doing here is beyond that. The services we are providing here is more important to the welfare of the citizens of this community than anything else.”

During the remaining week for testing, residents can call 850-404-6399 to make an appointment or they can walk up like many did during the first weekend. The goal is to test 2,800 people; a plateau that Robinson believes is attainable.

 “I think those people that were here (Saturday morning) in line and went through the line will report a good experience to people in their community and encourage them to come,” she said. “I think good word-of-mouth; if they’ve had a good experience, will bring other people in.”