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Getting a swab stuck up my nose at the Indian River County fairgrounds


I’ve attended all sorts of events at the Indian River County Fairgrounds over the years, but a week ago I  headed to one of my favorite venues not to enjoy a soccer game, antique show, canine agility trial, or the iconic Firefighters Fair – but to have a cotton swab stuck up my nose.

When I pulled up to the check-in line at about 8:15 a.m., there were 100 or so cars and pick-ups ahead of me queueing for drive-through coronavirus testing, administered by Treasure Coast Community Health.

A friendly attendant was handing everyone a paper explaining how to get online test results after the test, along with a colorful brochure featuring a duck wearing sunglasses.     

Pointing to the back of the line, a few hundred yards across the field, the man said cheerfully, “Just follow that car. Sorry about the wait.”

Once in line, I switched off the engine and read the duck brochure, which turned out to be information on a popular area fundraiser, Capt. Hirams’ Great Duck Derby Race, with this year’s proceeds supporting Treasure Coast Community Health. If all goes well, Derby day will be Sunday, Oct. 25.

Cars continued to line up behind me and, by 8:30, there were at least a couple hundred vehicles waiting, with a steady stream still coming through the gate.

The testing period was from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., which meant you had to check in by 10 a.m. to be tested that day.

Once testing began, we proceeded at a glacial pace: turn on the engine, move forward four or five car-lengths, stop for 5 minutes or so. Check your cellphone. Read your duck brochure. Repeat. The line snaked back and forth, around and across, finally reaching the tree line near the south exit, where the tests were being administered. But no one seemed impatient. No one pulled out of line and left.

Perhaps, like me, they were feeling grateful to have an opportunity to get tested for free and without symptoms.

Two hours later, I had lurched my way to the open-sided tent where the TCCH workers were set up, suited head-to-toe, masked, face-shielded and gloved.

A young woman with a clipboard checked my driver’s license to make sure I lived in the county, had me fill out a brief form, and asked a couple of questions: Did I have any symptoms? Have I been around anyone who has symptoms? Then a suited-up technician approached with a long-stemmed swab and politely asked me to tilt my head back. I did.

I’d heard all sorts of comments from people about the nasal swab procedure, ranging from “It was awful!” to “It felt like when you’re swimming and swallow water,” to “It made my eyes water.” For me, it felt a little strange for about one second. That was it.

The tester said the results should be online in about a week, and someone would call me if, and only if, my results were positive.

Later that afternoon, I spoke with Treasure Coast Community Health CEO Vicki Soule. Her organization is federally qualified and receives funding to administer the tests. When TCCH initially agreed to do the testing the first week in June, tests took place indoors.

On day one, 66 people showed up during the two-hour window. But the next test day saw 150 people, and the third saw even more. Shortly thereafter, testing schedules and venues were changed.

Now, drive-through testing is available at the Fairgrounds, 7955 58th Ave., Mondays and Wednesdays, 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.; in-facility testing is available at TCCH headquarters, 12196 CR 512 in Fellsmere,  Fridays, 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.; and at the Gifford Health Center, 4675 28th Ct.,  8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Saturdays. 

Unlike Cleveland Clinic and CVS, residents need not be symptomatic to be tested by TCCH. 

Soule says her organization takes every precaution during the testing process. Eight to 10 employees (and no volunteers) are assigned to each event.

The most frequent test-related complaint concerns the time it takes to get results. Although some labs may provide results faster, Soule said that TCCH has chosen to work with two of the best labs in the country, and that she and her staff are “working diligently” to improve the turn-around time.