ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The first day COVID-19 testing opened up to all ages at the Orange County Convention Center drive-thru site, it reached capacity earlier than ever. The testing site was forced to close before noon after the 250 daily test-limit was reached.
Prior to Wednesday, the only ones who were able to get tested at the federally-run site were people 65 and older with symptoms. First responders were also allowed to get tested at that location.
Now, the testing site is open to any age with the following criteria: a temperature of 99.6 degrees or higher and any respiratory symptoms
Those with a pre-existing medical condition are also welcome to get tested with no symptoms. First responders are also able to test at the site with a valid agency identification card.
"We have a health and human services captain who was instrumental to get the approval to open the criteria. She submitted a proposal based on our community's needs. Our average in Orange County is 45 years old, she was able to show that it's a need for our community," said Public Information Officer Lauren Luna.
About 100 cars were in line Wednesday an hour before the testing site opened. Officials said there was a wide range of ages that showed up, but won’t have any definitive answer about how many of each age group came for testing until Thursday.
A nurse who works at the testing site said things were noticeably different Wednesday.
“We got a lot of sicker people today. People are very scared, they were waiting for this day for awhile to get tested. People just rolled down the window and cried because they were so happy to be here and grateful,” nurse Sasha DeCesare said.
DeCesare works at the site every day to screen people for COVID-19 testing. She said it’s been hard work but their teams take turns with breaks and have cooling buses with water. She also says they have all the equipment they need.
"To be honest, we are grateful because they are taking great care of us here. I have so many friends, I am from Orange County and I work at many hospitals, and friends of mine have come here to get tested because they don't have enough PPE to be protected," said DeCesare.
The Florida National Guard is also assisting in this process. As a dad, National Guard Specialist David Martinez says seeing children move through the testing site hits close to home.
"I saw a young kid and after he was done taking the test, I gave him the muscles gesture showing he was strong. He laughed and gave the gesture back and I felt like I was making an impact in his life," said Martinez.
The team of nurses and soldiers say they are honored to help the community through this difficult time.
"We are pushing through. Our community needs us and we are here," said DeCesare.
Officials say the Orange County Convention Center drive-thru testing site is not affected by the statewide stay-at-home order, and will continue to administer tests daily starting at 9 a.m.
Officials say if you plan to show up, you should come early because they expect a large turnout Thursday. The testing site is open until 5 p.m. daily, or until 250 tests are administered.
The testing site has enough kits to last for another five to six days, according to testing officials, and they are hoping to get more delivered.