The demand for COVID-19 drive-up testing at a heavily used Neptune Beach site is exhausting the city's initial round of funding and might need emergency financial support next week to keep operating.
The city of Jacksonville used federal relief money to sponsor the site in the old K-Mart shopping center in partnership with Telescope Health, which had to limit its daily testing to stretch funding through the holidays.
Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes did not have a dollar figure for continuing the operation but he said the administration might bring a request to City Council at its meeting next Tuesday.
"Our goal will be to keep the Telescope drive-up facility operating at Neptune Beach," Hughes told the Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health and Safety Committee.
City Council agreed in August to use $4 million in federal money to expand access to testing and vaccinations.
In addition to the Telescope Health site, which just does tests, the city also partnered with Agape Family Health for testing and vaccinations, including booster shots, at Clanzel T. Brown Community Center, 4545 Moncrief Road, and Lane Wiley Senior Center, 6710 Wiley Road.
“We’re in pretty good shape with what we budgeted them," Hughes said.
The city also provided city-owned buildings for the Florida Department of Health in Duval County at Emmett Reed Community Center, 1093 W. 6th St., and Cuba Hunter Community Center, 4380 Bedford Road.
Another site has been providing drive-up COVID-19 tests at Regency Square mall, but there was some confusion about who is running that operation.
City Council member Ron Salem said he only learned about the site on Monday and he asked if the Department of Health is in charge of it. A representative of the health department said it isn't involved because the Regency site is being operated by the state Division of Emergency Management.
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The state Division of Emergency Management did do previous testing inside the old Sears store at the mall, but it is not engaged in the drive-up testing that's currently taking place on a parking lot of the mall.
That testing, which has attracted long lines of vehicles, is affiliated with Dynix Diagnostix, which is based in Fort Pierce. The testing site has a web site safecovid19test.com that shows locations at Regency mall in Jacksonville and the Martin County Fairgrounds in Stuart. The Regency site has been in operation for a few weeks.
The city kept its three sponsored sites in operation even after the spread of COVID-19 cases dropped sharply in the fall because officials anticipated winter could bring a resurgence of the virus as happened last year.
The state likewise continued to offer monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 while moving the site from the downtown Jacksonville library to the Joseph Lee Center in Northwest Jacksonville.
Hughes said the treatment site can only serve about 50 to 60 patients daily, as opposed to 300 to 350 at the peak of activity at the main library. He said as the state seeks to get more treatment supplies from the federal government, the city will work with the state to expand treatments at the Joseph Lee Center.
The monoclonal antibody treatments can help people who are infected or exposed to the COVID-19 virus avoid needing hospital treatment, provided the antibody cocktail is administered before the onset of severe symptoms.
Jacksonville hospitals are seeing more patients who have the virus.
Baptist Health's five hospitals collectively had 108 patients with the virus, including eight children. Seven of the adults were in intensive care. That's an increase of 42 since Friday when the total was 66, including five children, and eight adults in intensive care, according to Baptist Health.
UF Health Jacksonville reported 70 patients with the virus at its two hospitals, including 14 in intensive care. Friday the total was 57, spokesman Dan Leveton said.
The Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville declined to provide patient totals. But spokesman Kevin Punsky said the hospital has seen a 60 percent increase in COVID-19 patients compared to a week ago. He also reported "peak-level volumes of positive tests" in Mayo's drive-thru testing facility.
Memorial Hospital Jacksonville and Orange Park Medical Center, both owned by HCA Healthcare, also declined to provide patient numbers. But both "have seen a rise in COVID hospitalizations," according to a joint statement released by Memorial spokeswoman Odette Struys.
"Even though the symptoms of this strain tend to be less severe than what we saw during the surge this summer, it's still very important for us all to follow the CDC guidelines around masking, hand hygiene and social distancing. We also encourage vaccination as the most effective way to end this pandemic," according to the statement.
COVID-19 information was not available Monday from Ascension St. Vincent's, which has three area hospitals.
Times-Union staff writer Beth Reese Cravey contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: COVID-19 testing burning through city of Jacksonville's funding