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First Day of COVID-19 Testing In Immokalee

The Florida National Guard began doing COVID-19 testing in Immokalee on Sunday.

Two hours before testing was set to begin at the Collier Department of Health’s Immokalee branch, people began lining up. Some held umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun.

Kristine Hollingsworth of the Collier DOH surveyed the site to  ensure testing could be done safely and smoothly.

“We have fans, we have marks on the ground where people will know to stand six feet apart and continue to practice social distancing,” Hollingsworth said. “There’s plenty of hand sanitizer, there’s hand washing stations, so we are fully prepared.”

Hollingsworth said the testing site was an interagency effort. Collier Sheriff’s Office deputies were onsite to help direct traffic, members of the local fire department were on hand, the Collier Area Transit even had buses onsite that were being used to cool patients who needed a break from the Southwest Florida heat.

The Florida National Guard members deployed to Immokalee were from the Second Battlion of the 124th Infantry Regiment.

Captain Alexander Repp oversaw the testing. He said members of his company had also done COVID-19 testing in Palm Beach and Boward counties before coming to Collier.

Repp said he was in charge of 17 guard members, 15 of them military medics.

“Generally when you do day one on a mission, you’re going to go a little bit heavy on the personnel, because you just don’t know [what to expect].” Repp said.  “They’re anticipating doing 1,000 tests per day at this location.”

Repp said the soldiers would be split into five teams that would conduct 200 tests each.

Bringing a testing site to Immokalee was something local nonprofits repeatedly asked county officials for during weekly community conference calls to discuss the COVID-19 response in Immokalee.

Frank Rincon of the Benison Center was smiling as he set snacks and cold drinks  for those waiting to be tested on a table parallel to the line.

“I was elated when the testing was announced because it is something that’s needed, especially in Immokalee where you have people that live in close proximity to each other,” Rincon said. “Some people live 10, maybe 12 people to one structure, a small structure. And [testing] is a need more than a desire or a want.”

While Captain Repp said his unit was planning on doing 1,000 tests per day, Hollingsworth did not provide a total number of test kits that were provided for testing in Immokalee.

“We were initially given 1,000 kits. However, we have the ability to continue to request more testing kits and have them literally brought down here, overnight it, however they need to get here,” Hollingsworth said.

Testing will be held at the Immokalee Department of Health location from 11 am until 7 pm through Tuesday May 5th.