For the past two months, state and federal officials have continuously preached the importance of COVID-19 testing, particularly to reopen the nation’s economy, yet in many parts of the nation, tests are unavailable. For Lee County residents, however, there is a COVID-19 testing site at Hammond Stadium at the CenturyLink Sports Complex at 14100 Six Mile Cypress Parkway that is open to the public, free, does not require an appointment or doctor’s permission, and is complete in a short period of time. Testing is offered daily including weekends from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
This reporter went through the Hammond Stadium COVID-19 testing process on two separate occasions: to receive my own test on Saturday morning, May 9, then again when I took my parents on Tuesday morning, May 12. On May 9, I arrived at 11:30 a.m. and drove out a 12:04 p.m. after just 34 minutes. On May 12, we entered at 11:40 a.m. and exited at 12:36 p.m. after 56 minutes. On each occasion, there were no cars on Six Mile Cypress Parkway waiting to enter the Hammond parking lot, with roughly a dozen cars in line to access the testing tent on Saturday and approximately double that on Tuesday, though when we left, the line was nearly twice that long.
Everyone seeking a test must be at least 18 years old, wear a facecover, and have a valid Driver’s License or photo identification, or the Florida National Guard personnel will not admit you. You do not, however, need to be a Lee County or even Florida resident, and all receiving a test must sit by a working window. At the entry, everyone must don their facecover and hand their photo I.D. to the driver.
The National Guard member asks the driver to lower their window, where they inspect each I.D., gets a telephone number for every person, writes these on the Testing Information Packet, and distributes one for each individual. The driver then places these and the corresponding I.D.s on the front dash, rolls their window up and proceeds toward the testing tents. From that point on, until the test, all windows remain up, with no signatures required during the process.
Another National Guard member directs your car to the appropriate testing lane. At the registration tent, an aide or nurse wearing gloves and a facecover notes your name, address, date of birth, gender and telephone number from your I.D. and information packet on the dash. They hold these up to your closed windows for confirmation, then insert the nasal swab specimen bag under your windshield wiper.
You proceed to the test/swab tent, where a medical person in full protective gear including boots conducts the nasal swab test. As the technician goes to each window, only then does that window come down. You face the technician, lean your head back, lower your mask just enough to expose your nose but cover your mouth, and the tech inserts the soft swap deep into each nostril and rotates it for approximately 30 total seconds, changing their gloves after every test. Once each person receives their nasal swab test, you retrieve your I.D. and information packets from the dashboard and exit the Sports Complex.
I personally recommend you bring sunglasses, as other than when you are under the registration or testing tents, you wait in line in your car without shade. Make sure you have enough gasoline, so you can run your air conditioner for comfort. I suggest as well you bring tissues or paper towels, as the deep swab made my eyes tear, and I actually sneezed shortly after pulling away from the testing tent, so be ready should it affect you in the same ways.
While the COVID-19 test is quick, unfortunately the response is not! The normal processing time after the laboratory receives your test is 72 hours and if it is positive, it is another 24 hours before they telephone you. If the result is negative, it can be an additional 5 days. In my case, I did not learn that my May 9 test was negative until Monday afternoon, May 18, and as of press time, my parents still do not know theirs. The good news is if the lab does not call you with a positive result after the first four days, it’s unlikely that you have the coronavirus. If you still do not hear from the laboratory, the information packet provides a Medical Associates Network telephone number to call.
Lee County officials say the shortest wait times for tests are from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Officials can administer 750 tests-per-day and the Hammond Stadium site reached its quota several times during the last two weeks.