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Vero abandons idea of creating test site for city residents

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of December 3, 2020)

What seemed like a simple project – setting up a convenient, quick and free COVID-19 testing location for Vero Beach residents – turned out to be too expensive and complicated for the City of Vero Beach to tackle.

Vero City Manager Monte Falls said he researched the issue, looking for a viable plan, but he found testing capacity is still limited in Indian River County eight months into the coronavirus pandemic.

Because there are not enough tests to cover all asymptomatic people who have not been exposed to an infected person, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria still limit who gets tested.

“We just haven’t gotten there yet, even nationally with the number of tests,” Falls said.

Local clinics and testing sites are already using their share of test kits, so Falls reached out to CVS Pharmacy and a testing service in Orlando about the prospects of setting up a private testing site in Vero. Both of those providers would be expensive and require minimum numbers of tests daily to justify the test site.

“They would look for 150 persons to test daily, six days a week,” Falls said of COVID Testing LLC, the Orlando company.

With insurance, a test would cost $35 for next-day results or $75 for same-day results. Without insurance coverage, the cost would be $115 for next-day results or $155 for same-day results.

CVS Pharmacy could provide the test site, but that route, too, would be costly. “They would want us to commit to 12 weeks of use if they set up a testing center for us,” Falls said.

With one rapid-testing machine, CVS could process 30 tests per day, five days per week at a cost of $5,100 per day, which comes out to $170 per test. “That would cost more than $300,000” for the 12-week time period, Falls said.

Falls said he also looked into purchasing home test kits, but the kits that are widely available now are not rapid tests. Rapid tests being used in major metropolitan areas cost $140 per kit.

If the city wanted to go it alone and not use a commercial provider, it would need to apply for and be approved for a CDC point-of-test center designation called a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment.

“Those are for healthcare services that already do that kind of work,” Falls said, adding that the city would need to show it had trained personnel, testing machines, facilities and proper storage capacity for the vaccines – which it does not. Vero would have a better chance of getting approved if the city already had an employee health clinic, Falls said.

“You can see that locally we’re doing about what’s being done nationally in terms of testing. It’s not a matter of manpower or resources or dollars. It’s just availability of testing supplies going forward,” Falls said.

Based upon those options, the city decided the best course of action right now is to educate the public about where tests are available locally. Human Resources Director Gabrielle Manus compiled a list of testing locations, which is now up on the city’s website – – under the heading Residents.

Falls and McManus advise residents to drive up to Eastern Florida State College in Palm Bay in Brevard County if they want a rapid test from a State of Florida operated testing site.

“So rapid testing is available, we just did not know it,” Vice Mayor Rey Neville said.

Councilman Joe Graves, Councilman Bob McCabe and Mayor Robbie Brackett said whatever the city can do to get testing information out to the public would help alleviate confusion.

“It’s all about the communication. In this environment we’re in right now, the only thing we know for sure is that it’s a moving target,” Brackett said. “We need to be able to keep the communication going.”

Vero officials have also been considering whether they need to expand mask-wearing requirements in the city limits.

Brackett said the city has heard from numerous people with strong opinions on facemasks and that he prefers policies that “allow the citizens to do the right thing,” instead of handing down mandates.

“We appreciate the input,” Brackett said, advising residents to keep sending emails to voice their opinions.

Even if the city council approved some sort of mask mandate, enforcing it could be tricky as a state executive order prohibits law enforcement from punishing or fining individuals for simply refusing to wear a mask, if there are no other infractions of state law or city code.

There was no draft policy on mandatory facemasks, or even discussion of a facemask policy, on the Dec. 1 city council agenda. However, residents must wear face coverings when taking care of business at City Hall or when attending a council meeting, and many county businesses require employees and customers to wear masks.