Asymptomatic testing is available to individuals who are in the four categories; everyone else will need to meet the two-step screening process which was in place when the facility opened at five locations — Panama City, Marianna, Bristol, Port St. Joe, and Eastpoint — when testing began a little more than a month ago.

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PANAMA CITY — Social media has been overwhelmed with the number of posts and comments slamming testing sites for refusing individuals who believe they should be tested for coronavirus. However, a shift appears to be taking place locally as more testing facilities have relaxed screening processes for eligible individuals.


PanCare Health expanded its testing to include asymptomatic individuals who meet any of the new criteria, which includes working at a long-term care facility, has underlying medical conditions, is 65 years old and older, or is a first responder.


PanCare Health Marketing Coordinator Ashley Kelley said she expects a wave of people to seek testing due to the expansion.


"As we've been able to expand — people that we're testing, and then our capabilities — we keep seeing an increase with every expansion," she said. "Right now, we're at 50 each day that we're testing."


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The organization is now using the rapid testing kits that use a blood sample from a pricked finger and yields results within 15 minutes. If results return positive, an additional test is done using the nasal swab method and then sent to a lab.


Asymptomatic testing is available to individuals who are in the four categories; everyone else will need to meet the two-step screening process which was in place when the facility opened at five locations — Panama City, Marianna, Bristol, Port St. Joe, and Eastpoint — when testing began a little more than a month ago.


"Everyone is welcome to contact the response line and get scheduled for testing," Kelley said. "If you have symptoms, we still want you to call and be screened."


At Doctors Memorial Hospital in Bonifay, Holmes County, testing is open to anyone, no matter symptoms or lack thereof. Dr. Ata Ulhaq said the method is the best way to make society safer. About 40% of individuals tested have come from outside of Holmes County.


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"You can have the virus and not get the disease," Ulhaq said. "We really don't know the exact attack rate of how many people it is causing disease (in), how many people are getting infected, how many people are able to make antibodies, and how many people just get done with it without getting any symptoms."


"The first step is to get as many people tested as we can," he said. "Then we will know how many got the infection and how many people got the disease."


Of about a total of 700 tests administered, Ulhaq said three of the nine coronavirus positive cases were individuals who showed no symptoms. If a person shows symptoms, such as fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath, it means the development of the disease is in place.


"If they still have it, then we will check them again," he said.


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When asked about the shortage of testing kits, he said the hospital has no shortage.


"The tests were an issue before, but when we talked to the state, we found out that it can be done, through the Centers for Disease Control's, through normal saline ... and with cotton swabs with plastic stems."


"That's easily accessible and the transport medium is not an issue," Ulhaq said, nothing tests results using the alternative method may "come back a little bit later" than the test kits.


He pointed to the second stem to controlling the pandemic as testing for antibodies, as people continue to recover.


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As of Friday evening, Bay County had 63 cases, including two deaths and nine hospitalizations. The age range was from 14 to 93 years old and the highest concentration of cases in the county was found in Panama City, which claims 35 of the total number of cases.


The health department reports nine testing locations throughout the county: Florida Department of Health in Bay County, Ascension Medical Group, PanCare Health, Coastal Internal Medicine, Nations Best, Health Point, and the Veterans Affairs medical clinic, as well as, Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center and Ascension Sacred Heart Bay. Other than the hospitals, all of the sites are by appointment only.


Health facility officials say the locations are strategic to reach highly populated areas and they do not plan to expand services to outlying rural areas, though anyone who meet criteria are encouraged to make an appointment for testing.


This week Ascension Sacred Heart Bay opened a drive-thru testing site for two days at Tommy Oliver Stadium, at which 57 patients were tested. The site sends tests to a lab and get results in about five days. It expanded testing in Bay and surrounding counties.


"We are excited and grateful to have this opportunity to expand COVID-19 testing to serve Oklaoosa, Walton and Bay counties," Justin Labrato, chief operating officer of Ascension Medical Group Sacred Heart, said in a statement. "More testing is needed to better understand the spread of the virus in the community and break the chain of transmission. Testing identifies individuals with the disease, gets them treatment if needed, and isolates them from others so the virus does not spread further."