Although some 34,000 Polk County residents have already been tested for coronavirus, the board of county commissioners learned last week more testing continues to be needed.
Polk County Health Department Director Dr. Joy Jackson told commissioners at a June 15 work session that more testing — and more targeted testing — was required, especially in the wake of a recent uptick in the number of cases reported.
“I'm worried about the trends in cases,” Jackson told the commission. “I'm worried because we have a population that doesn't have immunity to this disease and Covid-19 is five-to-20 times more fatal than influenza.”
Jackson then explained that the reported cases in the county doubled in the last two weeks and showed no signs of abating.
While the majority of the county's 75 deaths have been linked to care facilities, Jackson revealed that one of the recent fatalities was that of a 27-year-old Polk resident. Citing privacy rules, she could not elaborate on that incident.
Jackson was adamant that testing and tracing was the only way to contain the spread of the pandemic. The testing reveals if a person has or has had the disease and the tracing gives health workers the opportunity to emphasize quarantining and isolation of those exposed.
Jackson suggested the county direct its testing towards areas with “cultural and economic disparities,” citing areas within Frostproof, Fort Meade, Lakeland, Winter Haven, Auburndale, Poinciana, Davenport and Haines City. She said she'd like to see the county provide testing to about 7,000 residents per month over the next five months — for a total of 35,000 tests.
“This is not a sprint — this is a marathon,” she added.
The county had already set aside funds for testing that it received in late May and, following Jackson's presentation, the board added another $10 million of its CARES relief money to the medical pot to amp up the testing program.
Jackson said her department would continue coordinating testing operations with the county's three hospital providers: Lakeland Regional Health, AdventHealth and BayCare. She also said testing stations would be either static, like one at the Lakeland Civic Center, or could be pop-ups similar to one recently held in Bartow.
Jackson also strongly urged the commission and the general public to use face masks while out in the community, to continue to maintain social distancing and to practice frequent hand-washing.
County Manager Bill Beasley assured the county board that the $126 million relief budget had ample funds to cover the costs of testing that Jackson said was needed.