On its first day, a COVID-19 testing site in Miami Lakes drew hundreds of people eager to know whether they had the virus, and available appointments for the next two weeks were immediately booked.
“People from all over Miami [-Dade County] were there,” said Alejandro Damiron, chief of staff for SOMOS Community Care said Monday night.
SOMOS is a non-profit network of health care professionals in New York City who primarily treat immigrant and low-income communities.
The company is offering free tests until July 24 on the grounds of the town’s Youth Center.
“Miami Gardens, Carol City, Hialeah and Miami Lakes were the most prominent locations [where patients came from],” Damiron said.
The staff performed more than 150 nasal tests Monday to people wanting to know if they had the virus, and more than 150 blood tests that might show antibodies for people who had survived COVID-19, according to Damiron.
The doctors and nurses had originally planned to see up to 150 people per day.
By Monday night, that daily patient tally was increased to 200, and will be comprised of those who had made appointments and those who walk up.
By 8 a.m. Tuesday, 75 people were already waiting to be tested, Damiron said.
As the pandemic spikes in Florida, the region has become the epicenter of the virus in the state.
Miami-Dade County has 24.2%, or 89,557 of Florida’s 369,834 COVID-19 cases.
The county’s testing positivity rate was 19.27% on July 20, according to the state.
Florida’s positivity rate overall was 17.36% and had ranged from 12.89% to 20.71% during the past 14 days.
The World Health Organization says that positivity rates in testing should remain at 5% or lower for at least two weeks before reopening society.
Since March, the number of COVID-19 cases in Miami Lakes reached 459 on July 20; Miami Gardens had 2,337; Hialeah had 12,487 and Miami, 55,349.
Damiron said he watched the growing need from his base in New York, and connected with an old friend, Mayor Manny Cid, to offer the company’s services.
“A lot of people are pushing for testing,” Damiron said Monday morning when operations began. “I’m from here. It was a no brainer to come down.”
Both Damiron and his wife, Desiree Damiron, an RN with SOMOS, have ties to Miami Lakes and Hialeah.
Also, he said he and Cid are former teammates on basketball pickup games and both attended St. Thomas University.
“I want to thank Alex Damiron from SOMOS Community Care,” Cid said Monday. “…the partnership with SOMOS will definitely assist with increasing testing in our town.”
Rolando Ros of Miami Lakes was one of those waiting Monday in the heat and humidity. He held a form that would enable him to be tested.
“I work with someone who tested positive for the virus,” Ros said. “That’s why I’m getting tested.”
He said he had some muscle pain but didn’t really feel any other symptoms.
“I hope I don’t have it,” Ros said.
The process took about two hours, Ros said.
“The tests went well,” Ros said. “The staff was helpful and courteous.”
SOMOS expects to provide results within seven days.
Patients are not charged; lab bills would be charged to their insurance if they have it, said Dr. Ramon Tallaj, chairman and founder of SOMOS Community Care.
The non-profit is funded by government grants, Damiron said.
The company has committed to be set up at the youth center, at 6075 Miami Lakes Dr., for two weeks.
There is talk of SOMOS staying in the area – in Miami Lakes or elsewhere -- beyond July 24 to continue to offer COVID-19 tests, but that decision has not yet been announced.
Patients line up Monday at the Miami Lakes Youth Center, where the SOMOS Community Care COVID-19 testing site begins operations. Photo: Linda Trischitta, The Miami Laker.