UF Health offers COVID testing to first responders

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB)-- UF Health researchers are offering free COVID-19 testing as a way of saying thank you to the local heroes.

Gainesville Fire Rescue is just one group of first responders who are recieving the tests.

"We really appreciate what they're doing too. We see them pretty often when we bring patients to the hospital. It's like a big family and we are very appreciative of what they're doing." Lt. Drew Halvorson said.

UF Health researchers have officially begun the testing in the form of nasal swab tests and standard blood draws. The tests are expected to determine if someone's body has started to form antibodies to fight the virus, which is important information especially for first responders.

UF Vice President Chair of Emergency Medicine, Lisa Merk MD-MPH, says its just one way of giving thanks.

"Our front line providers are putting themselves out everyday to take care of patients -- on the streets and at the front door of the hospital. We really want to give them information about their exposure status and potential for developing immunity," Merk said.

Mark said these tests will be run parallel with CLIA approved tests-- specific laboratory tests that the government has sanctioned-- in hopes that they can eventually get the test FDA approved and made accessible to the public.

"I think the most impressive piece of this has been how rapidly everyone in the community has come together to try and find solutions to this problem. It has been quite humbling to see everyone work so rapidly together to try to find a solution," Merk said.

The researchers have done more than 2,300 tests since the beginning of the week, and more than 300 tests with first responders in just 24 hours.