Coronavirus

Many vulnerable Floridians don’t drive. So how will they get tested for coronavirus?

As testing ramps up across the state with the addition of new drive-thru sites, many symptomatic Floridians are venturing out to see whether they have COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has touted the sites as a safe, free and efficient way for elderly people or those especially vulnerable to the virus to get tested without getting out of their vehicles or, in The Villages, golf carts.

But what if one doesn’t have a vehicle?

Advocates say it’s not as easy.

“The irony is that those people who don’t have cars have a higher risk of exposure and now have the least access to testing,” said Azhar Chougle, the executive director of Transit Alliance Miami. “It’s strange and ironic.”

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Chougle, who doesn’t have a car himself, advocates for those who get around by foot, bike and public transportation in Miami. He understands that taking public buses or trains can be risky, limiting how people without vehicles can seek out testing at nearby clinics or hospitals.

He said many people at risk are those who ride public transit, like undocumented people without driver’s licenses or uninsured people.

While the city of Miami announced Monday that it has 2,000 test kits to use on homebound residents, the tests are restricted to seniors who either have COVID-19 symptoms or think they were exposed to the coronavirus.

One scenario, Chougle said, would be mobile test sites in neighborhoods. That way, people could walk or bike to the stations. He suggested using city buses to bring testing supplies to where people live.

Stations need to be in residential areas, especially because scooter rentals and bike-sharing programs have been temporarily suspended, he added.

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The best option would be mass at-home coronavirus tests that are being made available in countries like England, he said.

“If we want to take this seriously we need to think about how to bring testing closer,” he said. “I don’t know if the states or local governments are thinking or planning for this ... there are implications to having car-only situations.”

High anxiety about access

Danielle Rivera, who lives south of Brickell, worries about what may happen if she comes down with symptoms of COVID-19. Rivera and her husband, who was recently laid off from his job at a Brickell restaurant, don’t own a car and depend on trolley service to get around.

Both are immunocompromised, and they have a young child. Neither has health insurance.

Rivera, 36, uses a wheelchair and fears what her options are if she were to get sick. She tweeted about the matter, to which Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez responded: call your doctor or local hospital for further instructions on what you should do.

At Marlins Park in Little Havana, near where Rivera lives, people 65 and older with possible coronavirus symptoms can make appointments for drive-thru testing.

“There just doesn’t seem to be any programs for people who have risk factors under 65,” Rivera said. “Or you can pull up and get a test from the car.”

She said in order to be tested, she was told she would have to make an appointment at the Jackson Memorial Hospital emergency room and pay out of pocket. In order to mitigate risk of infection, she would have to call a paramedic to transport her there.

Mike Lantz, 66, of Aventura, says as a blind person, his options are limited as well. To run errands, he uses public transportation for the blind, which he says could be risky amid the coronavirus outbreaks in his area.

As a blind person, he can’t tell when he’s six feet from someone as per recommended Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. It’s hard to practice social distancing when he needs to hold onto someone.

And, of course, there isn’t a way for him to go to a drive-thru testing site without a car.

“A lot of people in Miami don’t understand blindness,” he said.

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