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Vero seeking to curb COVID-19 spread in city

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of November 26, 2020)

With COVID-19 cases surging, and ZIP code 32960 – the mainland part of the City of Vero Beach – accounting for 28 percent of local cases even though it has less than 15 percent of the county’s population, the City Council wants to do more to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The council’s immediate goal is to make free, rapid coronavirus testing available and convenient for city residents.

Mayor Robbie Brackett and Vice Mayor Rey Neville have already contracted and recovered from the virus, and Councilman Joe Graves had to quarantine after returning from international travel, so they’ve seen firsthand which parts of the testing and public health system work and which are still lacking, nearly nine months into the pandemic.

The City Council tasked City Manager Monte Falls with finding a way to contract with a medical provider to set up a rapid testing program that could help residents navigate the holidays. The council was set to meet in a special call session about COVID-19 testing on Tuesday.

Graves is driving the issue, after having problems getting a test as an asymptomatic person. Plus, Graves said he feels there are obstacles for people who don’t have insurance or who don’t have a primary care physician to write a referral for a test.

The turnaround time is also troubling, he said.

“If you’re having symptoms and you go get a test, by the time you get the results back, it’s too late. You’ve infected people,” Graves said.

Making rapid tests available to city residents, Graves said, would help families make holiday plans more safely and aid businesses in managing operations. “My father is 89 years old. I don’t want to skip this Thanksgiving with him,” Graves said.

If all members of a family test negative, they could gather with fewer worries about spreading the virus to each other.

Vero has had doctors and public health officials brief the council regularly.

Last week’s briefing was by infectious disease specialist Dr. Laurie Welton, who has practiced since 1997 and also has a master’s degree in virology. Welton said she works with area long-term care facilities on their infection control plans and that rapid testing has been a great tool in those settings.

“Rapid testing should be available in more settings,” Welton said.

Vero offered to pay the Indian River Health Department to conduct a rapid testing clinic in Vero, or to purchase an Abbot rapid testing unit to be used in Vero. 

But Miranda Hawker, who runs the Health Department, said she couldn’t make that work because she can’t get another rapid-testing machine. So, the city is looking for a private practitioner to do the testing.

Brackett said Primary Care of the Treasure Coast has testing capability, but it requires the person to have a telehealth visit before the test. Councilman Bob McCabe mentioned Med-X where he tested and got results back in three days.