New testing site

The last time a 12-year-old adolescent was an open discussion item beyond AMC theatre car pools, was before COVID-19 stay-at-home orders forced the nation to shelter-in-place. The tides have finally turned. Miami-Dade County reopened in “full phase one” on Monday, May 18 and the city of Opa-locka debuted a new testing site at Sherbondy Park the same day. During a press conference, it was firmly stressed that being tested for coronavirus remains critical for everyone. The county has reopened; the virus has not left.

But only good news abounds at the Opa-locka site. Testing is free. You can walk-up without an appointment, you do not have to exhibit any symptoms of the disease and you can be as young as the tender age of 12. The latter opens doors for scores of youth to pursue testing without the previous test site restrictions.

The county’s “full phase one” reopening is an action authorized by Gov. Ron DeSantis Thursday, May 14 and implemented locally by Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Social distancing and CDC protocols for wearing masks remain in place.

This measure follows the May 4 “initial phase one” that called for large venues to remain shuttered, gatherings of more than 10 were prohibited, but hospitals were permitted to resume elective procedures and restaurants were allowed to reopen with inside dining limited to 25 percent capacity.

Effective Monday, certain businesses can operate at 50 percent capacity, but if an onslaught of residents do not make getting tested their 100 percent priority, many may never live to see the county reach “full phase two.” That message was often directed toward young people, many of whom were not old enough to vote for the six, elected-officials who each took to the mic and offered fact-based rationale. Some emphasized the disproportionate weight the virus has had on the Black community, but all encouraged every resident who is able to voluntarily get tested for COVID-19.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez

“We’re making the testing more available to those who want to be tested. Testing is critical to improve our community’s public health, and especially important as today is the first day of phase I. We’re going to yellow (risk-level) and opening nonessential businesses throughout Miami-Dade County to move to a new normal and to restore our vibrant economy. We will always use safety and health as a top priority for all 20 million residents of Miami Dade County. Thank you to everyone here today for practicing social distancing critical in our efforts to keep flattening the curb of COVID-19. Be vigilant and create a healthy community where, ‘I keep you safe, you keep me safe.’ That is our shared mission.

By the numbers

Mayor Gimenez addressed media questions and stated that the county’s own medical studies have indicated that more than 200,000 people in Miami-Dade have been infected. Currently, the positive number is close to 15,000. In determining data, the county looks at hospitalizations, utilization, the number of people on ventilators and how many ventilators and hospital beds are available.

“We’ve always had well over 3,000 hospital beds available and something over 500 to 600 ICU beds and over 900 ventilators with close to 61 to 70 people currently on ventilators, which is the lowest number,” Gimenez shared. “We are going to continue to have more positive people. The more you test, the more you’re going to get positives.”

According to Gimenez, the county will be contracting close to 800 to 1000 “contract tracers” as part of its testing program and will continue to conduct random, county-wide sampling to determine where the virus really is.

“You really can’t depend on testing sites like this where people walk-up,” Gimenez said. “You have to go out to the community and do a randomized sample. So, the county will have a “robust” sampling program.”

City of Opa-locka Mayor Matthew Pigatt

“The city of Opa Locka has one of the highest numbers of positive cases in the state of Florida per capita. We are a community with one of the largest portions of Blacks, elderly people that have a higher chance of having HIV, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and symptoms with the highest chance of mortality of COVID-19. If we’re going to stop and slow down the curb of infection, we have to know who has it. It only takes one person to spread it to hundreds of others and the key thing is they may not have these symptoms but they may spread it to someone who may pass away from it, so we want to make sure that as a city, we are protected.”

State Senator Oscar Braynon

In an exclusive interview with The Miami Times following the press conference, Senator Braynon shared the following regarding the county’s Black demographic.

“It is our community that’s skewing high, and it’s not just Opa-locka it’s areas like Coconut Grove, South Miami and the closest testing to an area like Coconut Grove is the Marlins Stadium and you know how many African Americans we have there. Liberty City has to go to North Miami, so this is just the beginning. As the only African American senator in Miami-Dade, my goal is to get a site in all of our Black communities because they can’t reopen without testing. Yes, they are reopening, so our fight right now is to make sure we have not just the testing but also the contact tracing. I need to where somebody has been, whose been around them, so the second step beyond testing is the contact tracing after someone tests positive. You can’t just make a phone call and say, ‘Miss Johnson, you’re positive.’ It has to be, ‘Miss Johnson, you’re positive. Who’s living in the house with you?”

State Representative Shevrin Jones

“This is the prime opportunity to show that when we reopen, we’re not doing so under the guise of malpractice. We’re making sure that there are enough testing locations throughout the state of Florida, more particularly that we know within the Black community.We know that Opa-locka is the epicenter of where a large number of Blacks reside and to have this testing center here took a lot of effort with the county and state. Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert was also a big help. This is huge deal. A win for all of us.”

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan

“Eventhough we are such a small community, we have more cases in Opa-locka than we do in Miami Gardens which is a wonderful testing site at the stadium. It’s the only other site where you can walk up and get a test but it’s for antibodies. This site will allow the community whose income level will not allow them to have a car to walk up and get a test done. A lot of us don’t know whether or not we have the virus or not. You may be asymptomatic. This facility will really give us an opportunity to find out who has it and who doesn’t. We as a Black community and Brown community are more impacted by this virus and what better place to put it than to put it here…NE opened first because it had a first request. But this site is considered more of a regional site because of the neighboring communities. I just want, as a people, to put the word out to our neighbors the radio stations and have our young people to understand that nobody knows what the impact of this virus is,

Sherbondy Park is located at 380 Bahman Avenue in Opa-locka, Fl 33054

Testing began Monday, May 18 with 60 tests the first day and 200 tests each day afterward, seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Appointments are not required but pre-registration is recommended by calling 305-499-8767.

Managing Editor

Penny Dickerson is a journalist joining The Miami Times following an Africa sojourn and 10-year freelance career in newspaper and magazine. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Lesley University, and B.A. in Journalism from Temple University.

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