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A loud megaphone drew Nathan Campbell outside his home the morning of May 26.

A person in a Gainesville Fire Rescue pickup truck announced “Free COVID-19 testing” while passing Northwest Fifth Avenue, the 20-year-old UF linguistics and international studies junior said. There was a bus parked on the street, ready to test Campbell and his neighbors for COVID-19.

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The mobile testing bus, parked and ready to administer free COVID-19 tests to anyone who wants one.

The visit was part of a mobile testing program run by the Florida Department of Health and Gainesville Fire Rescue, Gainesville City Manager Lee Feldman said. He said the city outfitted an RTS bus with testing equipment and staffed it with paramedics to give the city mobile testing capabilities.

The bus visits two areas in the city a day, Feldman said. The program’s first scheduled neighborhood visit was on May 21. A schedule of the mobile testing daily locations is available on the city’s calendar.

Campbell said he was the first person on his block in line. Before being tested, he said he was asked by one of the four people working the mobile testing bus for a form of ID as well as his health insurance provider.

The test involved a long cotton swab, which was inserted inside one of his nostrils.

“It felt kinda strange,” he said. “It felt like they poked a hole in my nose.”

His test came back negative for COVID-19.

Mobile testing expands testing to communities that might have difficulty accessing testing locations, said Paul Myers, an administrator for the county health department. He said the program conducts 100 tests per day—an increase from 30 tests when the program first started.

The program conducts a test that only confirms if someone is infected by COVID-19, Myers said. Antibody tests, which determine if you previously had the virus, aren’t part of the mobile program. He said reliable antibody tests aren’t readily available.

Besides the bus, Myers said residents can also be tested in a minute at a drive-thru by calling 352-334-8810 and scheduling an appointment. The location of the drive-thru is given to people who make an appointment. Test results are available within 3-7 days.

Alachua County has the highest per capita testing rate in the state with 18,037 conducted COVID-19 tests as of Friday, Mark Sexton, a county spokesperson, said. He said the testing rate is high because the county can meet the demand of people who want to get tested.

“Anyone who wants to get tested can, whether you’re symptomatic or not,” he said.

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Only 2.1 percent of the tests conducted in the county were positive for COVID-19, Sexton said. He believes testing is one of the many tools being used to fight COVID-19 effectively in the county.

“It includes testing, it includes social distancing, it includes wearing masks,” Sexton said. “All of these things are part of the reason why Alachua County’s numbers look so good.”

Latecia Richards, a 35-year-old Gainesville-based freelance photographer, said she heard about the mobile program from city commissioners and pastors in her community. She said the program provides people who don’t have health insurance or can’t travel to drive-thru testing sites.

She told The Alligator she’s witnessed people trying to wave down the mobile testing bus as it rolled down their street.

“They were like, ‘Wait, wait, wait! I wanna get a test!’” she said.

Richards said she participated in the program’s testing May 28. She said she was comfortable because the staff talked her through the test.

After three days of waiting, her test result returned negative. While the test was uncomfortable, Richards said it was worth it.

“I’d rather get a massage than get a COVID-19 test,” she said. “You do what you have to do to make sure you are well and those around you are well.”

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Contact Tristan at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TristanDWood.

Staff Writer

Tristan is The Alligator's city commission reporter. He covers Gainesville and Alachua County politics, as well as issues important to the local community. He is a rising junior and dog dad to a two year old pit mix named String Bean.