Antibody testing, which provides patients a glimpse at whether they’ve been infected with COVID-19 sometime in the past, is available to anyone at the Volusia County Fairgrounds on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
DELAND — Faye Strawbridge coughed through February. It was awful.
"Very severe," she said Monday at the Volusia County Fairgrounds, where she and her husband Don were among the first non-symptomatic Volusia County residents getting IgG antibody tests for coronavirus.
The antibodies indicate a previous exposure, said Dr. J. Michael Ham-Ying, chief medical officer for Family Health Source, a nonprofit system of community health centers based in DeLand.
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"That’s what this will show — if those earlier illnesses that they had was COVID-19, and they’ve now they’ve recovered, then there’s a strong possibility that they have now developed a protective antibody, and if so you will see that with this test result," Ham-Ying said.
Family Health Source partnered with the state, county and others to assemble a large-scale COVID-19 test site at the Volusia County Fairgrounds. The plan was for 500 tests to be available daily.
Hundreds, including the Strawbridges, came before the official 8:30 a.m. start time. It was enough that some who arrived later were told to return on Tuesday. People want to know if they’ve been exposed to the virus that has killed more than 69,000 Americans and infected 500 and counting in Volusia County.
"We had to close the gates at two hours in because we had already reached the 500," said state Rep. David Santiago, R-Deltona, who helped organize the testing. "We’ll probably do close to 600 today."
Including Faye Strawbridge.
"I’ve had pneumonia before," she said, "and I’d never been sick like this."
She and her husband had their blood drawn, with samples sent to labs. Results are expected in two to five days.
After arriving from their South Daytona home at 7:45 a.m., the Strawbridges waited more than five hours — much of it in their car — to get to the front of the line.
There were grumbles about the wait. Ralph Epifanio of DeLand called it a "debacle," but while some were frustrated, others were happy to finally have a chance to get tested.
"It’s been a while but it’s worth it," Faye Strawbridge said. "We knew it was was going to be a long wait. ... I wanted to be able to be sure to get tested to know whether that’s what I had or not."
Tests are scheduled to continue Tuesday, Thursday and Friday this week.
Laurie Asbury, CEO of Family Health Source, said her team is working to accommodate everyone who wants a test.
"The demand is just enormous, as you can imagine. We’re just going to see how we can accommodate more in a safe way," she said.
Asbury said patients were going through several screenings, including one by a health-care provider, as lab tests require orders.
Everyone inside the Hester Building at the Fairgrounds wore a mask and was asked to maintain proper distance.
"The idea is you are well. ... They’re not in the building coughing. Our team monitors that throughout to ensure we’re not bringing in anybody with any type of active symptoms," Asbury said.
Patients who are not well are being referred to Family Health Source’s DeLand clinic at 1205 S. Woodland Blvd.
Santiago said the fairgrounds testing is the first of its kind at a large scale in Central Florida; other, similar test sites will be opening up in coming days across the state.
"It puts a smile on my face because we have access for people," he said. The smile wasn’t visible under his mask.
"The hope is to have a better understanding of who may have developed an immunity towards COVID-19," Santiago said. "Once a patient has had their blood drawn for the antibody testing, and if determined to have antibodies, my hope is that they will then go to CSL Plasma to donate plasma so we can better understand COVID-19."
CSL Plasma, among the world’s leading plasma companies who have formed an alliance aimed at treating coronavirus, had a booth with information encouraging donating, said Faye-Lynn Deissinger, manager of the Orange City center.
Dr. Ham-Ying said people were showing great interest in helping through donating plasma with COVID antibodies.
"Most of the people who are coming, I’m finding, actually have a great heart. They want to do something," he said. "This disease has affected a lot of people. It’s taken a lot of lives. And what they’re hoping is that they have positive, protective antibodies so that they can actually donate serum to save the lives of people who are dying in hospitals."
CSL Plasma is taking donations at 2404 S. Volusia Ave., Orange City. Call 386-917-1808 to make an appointment. Hours are Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Also from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.