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Free coronavirus testing in Port St. Lucie ends early following dispute over protective gear

There were still more than 1,000 tests available when the testing halted.
Posted at 10:57 PM, May 05, 2020

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Free COVID-19 testing in Port St. Lucie shut down hours early Tuesday, but not because of a shortage of tests.

There were still more than 1,000 tests available when the testing halted. The drive-thru testing site was a rare opportunity for people not showing symptoms to check on their health.

A spokesperson for St. Lucie County confirmed the testing stopped following a dispute over how the testing was being done and the protective gear being worn by medical staff. The dispute was between St. Lucie County’s Public Safety Director Ron Parrish, and the medical professionals overseeing the tests.

Treasure Coast Medical Associates, Inc. (TCMAi) volunteered to conduct the tests for the City of Port St. Lucie. They prepared to test as many people as possible in a couple of days.

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“This is part of getting Florida back to work. Let’s test as many people as possible,” said Kelly Adelberg, Chief Operations Officer for TCMAi.

More than 1,000 tests were originally given to St. Lucie County from the state, but the county gave its tests to the City of Port St. Lucie.

Adelberg said the county did not have a group immediately ready to conduct the tests for the county. TCMAi already has a partnership with the City of Port St. Lucie. “[The county] really had no education whatsoever when it came to COVID-19 testing,” Adelberg said.

Adelberg said her team also used their own contacts with Quest Labs to obtain additional, more accurate tests to give to the public.

“We wanted to have as many accurate tests as possible,” Adelberg said.

Shortly after testing started Monday, Adelberg said Ron Parrish had complaints.

“The first day was that our masks were not proper. We weren’t wearing N-95s,” Adelberg said.

However, Adelberg said her staff members who were encountering the patients, all had proper facial coverings.

“This is the one I had on today. I had these specifically made. This is actually considered a surgical mask,” Adelberg said.

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She said Parrish had more complaints on Tuesday.

“The second day, Ron wanted to have everyone change gloves for every person in the vehicle,” Adelberg said.

When it comes to mass testing and preserving supplies, Adelberg said the FDA guidelines do not recommend changing gloves after every patient.

According to the FDA, medical professionals conducting the tests can “Extend the use of medical gloves without changing the gloves between patients with no known infections diseases. Gloved hands should be cleaned between patients and at other times when hand hygiene would normally be performed during routine patient care.”

“The safe way to do it is to sanitize your hands with the gloves on in between,” Adelberg said. “By the FDA, that’s the guideline.”

Dr. Michael Adelberg, CEO of Treasure Coast Medical Associates, Inc, said he tried to work out the dispute with Parrish.

“I said Ron, that’s 24,000 gloves. It triples the time in this mass screening, not to be confused with a trip to the doctor’s office or emergency room.”

Dr. Adelberg said Parrish asked them to shut down if they did not change their procedures. Because Dr. Adelberg did not feel Parrish was following proper guidelines, he decided to stop the tests.

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“He is following a guideline that doesn’t exist… He crushed the community. He’s impeding thousands of people from their ability to go back to work," Dr. Adelberg said.

WPTV reached out to St. Lucie County for more information. According to Spokesman Erick Gill, "After a day and half of testing, more than 1,000 tests were administered at the Port St. Lucie site. There were discussions regarding the methodology in the testing, which lead to the site closing early. St. Lucie County wants to continue testing. The unused tests will be deployed at a future testing site. The county appreciates all the parties and volunteers that took part in this event over the past two days. We look forward to acquiring more tests from the state and setting up future testing sites.”

Dr. Adelberg also sent the following letter to Governor Ron DeSantis and the County Administrator for St. Lucie County:

I am a 30-year board-certified emergency physician who works at a level 2 trauma center who deals on a regular basis with critically ill patients with this particular disease. Recently I was approached to donate time and material to provide approximately 1400-2000 COVID-19 tests to the citizens of St. Lucie County. In the middle of our testing… we were told by Ron Parrish to shut our procedure and operation down in all respects. His argument was, and incorrectly, that we were to change gloves for every patient. The FDA has an article and an opinion that this is not necessarily correct in patients who are not symptomatic. Furthermore, changing gloves for every patient would quadruple the amount of time required to screen the approximately 2000 patients we had the ability to screen for. The wait time for patients in their cars has been 2 to 3 hours at present.
Obviously, I am very upset that my donated time and money have been curtailed here for St. Lucie County but he was quite adamant that we cease and desist the mass screening process. Very disappointing trying to help the county and the citizens. There are 100s of people who are lined up to get this test who are beyond angry that they are being turned away in spite of the fact we are perfectly able to test these citizens of this county.
I thought you might like to know about this atrocity and incredible lack of concern for your citizens by your staff…
I am completely disgusted with the situation. You should be embarrassed.