Experts still focus on COVID-19 testing as preventative measure for spread

There is a new push for widespread testing as Americans who are eligible wait on vaccinations.

One health care provider in Southwest Florida says it’s now offering free testing, and medical experts say this is key to keeping people out of the hospital.

It goes back to pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic spread. If you don’t know you’re infected, you can’t isolate. Without that step, the virus can keep spreading.

Julie Pedretti is the COVID-19 community relations director for Healthcare Network. She says testing remains an important piece of stopping the spread, because it’s going to take time for the country to reach herd immunity.

“It’s going to take many, many months before we can get to that 80% vaccine rate,” Pedretti said. “Until then, we cannot let our guard down.”

Some testing sites have shut down or scaled back because of vaccination programs. That’s where Pedretti’s team comes in.

“We know that the Department of Health is very busy with vaccines, so we’re ramping up our testing events,” Pedretti said.

Help is on the way from the federal government as well. President Joe Biden’s pandemic response plan calls for widespread testing.

“How exactly they get rolled out is not fully understood at the moment, but I believe that there will probably be a focus on schools,” said Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard. “There will probably be a focus on essential businesses, and I hope that there’s also a focus on getting these tests into homes.”

Harry Owens got his first shot, but it was not without a lot of patience.

“We waited in line, I guess about maybe 7:45, something like that, they started to come around and give out tickets,” Owens said. “I was 795 out of 800.”

At 64, Owens’ wife can’t get the vaccine yet, and neither can his children nor his grandchildren.

That’s why Owens applauds the renewed focus on testing.

“There’s a lot of people out there who are younger than 65 that aren’t able to get that shot soon anyway,” Owens said. “I think from that standpoint, I think it’s very important.”

Healthcare Network is offering free COVID-19 testing Saturday at the Nichols Community Center in Golden Gate from 9 to 11 a.m. You don’t need an appointment, but you do need to bring a mask and your ID.

“Isn’t it just better to know whether you have COVID or not?” Pedretti said. “Whether you would test positive or not? So you can protect yourself and your loved ones and the rest of the community.”

MORE: National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness

Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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