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Jacksonville-Funded Free Testing Site Runs Out of Rapid Tests For Two Days

AP Photo/John Minchillo

The city-funded Neptune Beach testing site ran out of rapid COVID tests Tuesday through Wednesday, just two weeks after Jacksonville City Council allocated $4 million in American Rescue Plan dollars to cover free testing countywide.

The Neptune Beach site is one of the five city-funded sites that opened last week. Most of the sites are offering more reliable PCR tests, which take up to five days to turn around results. Just one of the clinics is advertising rapid COVID tests: the Neptune Beach site in the former Atlantic Boulevard Kmart parking lot, which is run by Telescope Health.

The test shortage was due to “high demand and carrier delays,” according to an announcement on Twitter from Telescope Health.

As cars lined up each morning in Neptune Beach, the other city-funded sites have much shorter wait times. Thursday afternoon there was no one in line at the Clanzel Brown Community Center site and the wait time was under 10 minutes at Lane Wiley Senior Center. Both sites offer PCR tests.

The Neptune Beach site recently changed its procedures to pass four times as many people through the drive-through testing line, according to a Telescope Health spokesperson. But despite the advancement, wait times can still be an hour or longer.

The city-funded site is one of the only free, same-day, rapid testing options in the area. Telescope Health isn’t taking advance appointments for the test, so it’s on a first-come, first-served basis. In contrast, appointment-based rapid tests at Jacksonville CVS locations were booked for the next two weeks as of Thursday afternoon.

Some residents have taken matters into their own hands instead of waiting for a free testing site. Craig Carpenter said he bought a few antigen tests for his family from a local Walgreens to avoid long lines.

“You don’t have to stand in line with a bunch of people, maybe getting them sick, waiting to get a test,” Carpenter said. “And you find out in 15 minutes.”

He said he quarantined for two weeks after a positive self-test, before heading to a city-run, in-person testing site because his job required a negative PCR test to return to work.

His wife, Darlene Carpenter, said she didn’t mind paying the $24 for home testing kit in exchange for the convenience. While those self-tests the Carpenters used were in stock at most Jacksonville Walgreens as of Thursday afternoon, according to the pharmacy’s website, the cost could be a barrier for some.

Credit Claire Heddles / WJCT News
A PCR-only COVID testing site had no wait time Thursday afternoon.

The four other free clinics recently funded by the city of Jacksonville offer PCR testing. Two are operated by the Department of Health, and two are run by Agape Family Health. Brian Hughes, Jacksonville Mayor Curry’s chief administrative officer, said testing sites are different than they were at the start of the pandemic.

“There is so much third-party testing out there,” Hughes said. “The city won’t be directly administering it. So what we’re going to do is provide city locations and the funding to the experts that are already doing the work.”

City Council approved a bill August 10 to use $4 million of the city’s $171 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds on the new testing sites. According to the most recent Florida Department of Health COVID data report, the testing positivity rate in Duval County is at 21%, up slightly from the beginning of August.

For those still hopeful for a rapid test, a representative of Telescope Health said there will be free, rapid tests in stock when their Neptune Beach clinic opens Friday at 7 a.m. despite the shortages earlier in the week. Rapid tests were also available all day on Thursday. 

The other city-funded testing sites are at Clanzel T. Brown Community Center, Lane Wiley Senior Center, Emmett Reed Community Center and Cuba Hunter Community Center.

Contact Claire Heddles at, (904) 250 - 0926, or on Twitter at @claireheddles.