Lines form at area COVID-19 testing sites amid after-Christmas omicron surge

Earle Kimel
Sarasota Herald-Tribune

SARASOTA COUNTY – Wait times and lines at area COVID-19 test sites have increased as more people want to get tested after the Christmas holiday, and in light of the surge in cases of the omicron variant.

Local numbers: Sarasota COVID-19 cases up 224.6% this week

Independent contractors operate four public testing sites in Sarasota County – at the former Sarasota Kennel Club property, the Robert L. Anderson Community Center, Ed Smith Stadium and Dallas White Park in North Port.

Before the holidays, the kennel club site was testing about 150 people a day but after Christmas, that jumped to between 600 and 700 people a day, Steve Huard, the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County spokesperson, said Tuesday afternoon.

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Monica Abbott, who was out for a neighborhood walk, captured this photo of motorists lined up along 12th Street in Sarasota, waiting for COVID-19 testing at Ed Smith Stadium on Monday morning.

“Based on the lines I saw yesterday and the fact that they have a four-hour wait or a five-hour wait, I'd say it’s probably in the neighborhood of 1,000 right now,” he added. “These sites have a capability of ramping up and scaling back as demand requires.”

The public sites report data to local health departments but are not operated by them.

Huard noted that COVID-19 testing is available at local retail pharmacies and not just local public testing sites. Typically, pharmacies require people to schedule an appointment either online or via phone for a test.

Motorists wait in line for COVID-19 testing at Ed Smith Stadium on Monday morning.

Monica Abbott, who lives near Ed Smith Stadium and walks the area nearly every day, said that in late November, she was wondering why the site was still open, because so few people were getting tested.

But the holiday season and the omicron variant changed that.

“Right after Christmas, traffic was backed up past Euclid and beyond on 12th Street,” she said.

The main entrance to the stadium, which is technically at 2700 12th Street, is at the intersection of Euclid Avenue and 12th Street, while the testing site entrance is in the parking lot on the east side of the stadium, with an entrance off of Tuttle Avenue.

On her Nov. 28 neighborhood walk, Monica Abbott captured this image of a virtually empty COVID-19 testing site at Ed Smith Stadium.

Abbott, who has received two shots and a booster, wasn’t in line for a test that day, and documented the increase with her cell phone.

On her walks Abbott will go without a mask, unless she sees a person coming near, then she’ll put one on. While grocery shopping, she wears an N-95 under a surgical mask.

Earlier:Health officials urge boosters as Omicron variant spreads

“This omicron thing, the first I heard of it was at Thanksgiving dinner and ever since then, it’s just been more and more and more,” Abbott said.

“Maybe sometime soon in 2022, things will get back to some degree of normal,” she added hopefully.

Huard said that the recent wave has spurred an increase of people stopping by the health department at 2200 Ringling Boulevard, Sarasota, for first and second vaccine doses, as well as boosters, though just as with testing, vaccines are readily available at health care providers and pharmacies too.

The health department administers vaccinations at its Sarasota office and at its immunization center at 6950 Outreach Way, North Port.

“It’s still a great time to get vaccinated,” Huard said. “With COVID, the numbers are increasing, we’re reminding people to social distance when possible and when not possible to wear a mask and just continue to prevent the spread of COVID and use what we have available to protect yourself.”

The News Service of Florida reported Tuesday that the number of Florida hospital inpatients with COVID-19 jumped to 3,148, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, up from 2,406 on Monday. The federal data also showed that 382 COVID-19 patients were in intensive-care units, up from 325 on Monday.

While hospitalization numbers have increased in December, they remain far below the totals this summer, when the delta variant of the coronavirus spread through the state, the News Service reported, adding that Florida had 15,177 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Sept. 1.

Earle Kimel primarily covers south Sarasota County for the Herald-Tribune and can be reached at earle.kimel@heraldtribune.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Herald-Tribune.