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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

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Where to Get a FREE COVID Test in Tampa Bay for Your Family

As COVID cases continue to surge and calls from the schools about another COVID case seem to come daily, you are probably looking for a place to get a free COVID test for yourself and your child. You might even need a negative result from a COVID test in order to send your child back to class after quarantine.

Related: When COVID and Flu Season Collide: How to protect your family

While you can book COVID testing appointments through your doctor’s office and walk-in clinics, there are places where you can get a FREE COVID test in Tampa Bay without having to worry about paying a co-pay or fee to cover the cost of the appointment. Many of these free sites do not require an appointment. This includes COVID tests for kids.



Hillsborough County and Tampa Free COVID Testing Sites:

These temporary locations will be open and offering free covid tests in Tampa seven days a week from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. No appointments needed. Face masks required except the moment during the covid testing when the nasal swab sample is collected to test for covid.

  • Palm River Park Community Center: 725 S. 58th St., Tampa, FL 33619
  • Code Enforcement Complex: 1101 E. 139th Ave., Tampa, FL 33613
  • Cordelia B Hunt Center at Al Lopez Park:  4602 N Himes Ave, Tampa, FL 33614  *Walk-up testing. Pre-register here to save time.
  • Albert “Al” Barnes Park Parking Lot: 2902 N 32nd St, Tampa, FL 33605 *Drive-thru and walk-up testing. Pre-register here to have time. 


Other COVID testing locations in Hillsborough County:

*CVS and Walgreens are drive-thru COVID testing locations that will also test kids ages 3 and older. You will have to self swab. Free for non-insured.

Make sure to bring your photo ID and date of birth for all persons tested. If you have health insurance, bring your insurance card with you. Click here for the Covid-19 Resource page for Hillsborough County.


Pinellas County Free COVID Tests:

  • Center for Health Equity: 2333 34th St. S., St. Petersburg  *This St. Petersburg / Pinellas County COVID test site open from 9am-5pm, seven days a week.  No appointment necessary.


Other COVID Testing Locations in Pinellas County:

*CVS and Walgreens are drive-thru COVID test locations that will also test kids ages 3 and older. You will have to self swab. Free for non-insured.


There are multiple other locations throughout Pinellas County where you can get a COVID test, but you may have to pay a fee or co-pay to cover cost of clinic’s time. Click here to find a location near you. This site also breaks it down on whether it is an appointment only, walk-up, or drive-thru. 


Pasco County Free Covid Testing Sites:

Pasco County’s Health Department has teamed up with Nomi Health to provide a drive-thru COVID testing site at Gulf View Square Mall in New Port Richey from 7 am-7 pm, seven days a week. Appointments for COVID tests are not necessary, but highly recommended. You can book here and also check for other locations to get a COVID test in Pasco County.

  • Gulf View Square Mall in Port Richey: 9409 US-19, New Port Richey 


Other locations to get a free COVID test in Pasco County:


COVID-19 Symptoms from the Centers for Disease Control:

People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Anyone can have mild to severe symptoms. People with these symptoms may have COVID-19 and should consider taking a COVID test:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea


When to seek emergency attention:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone


Kids & COVID Testing

As our children get ready to head back to class as our state deals with another surge in Covid cases, you probably have some questions. Do I still need to get a vaccine if I’ve had Covid already? Can I still get sick if I’m vaccinated? Do I need to change the type of mask I send my child to school in since there is no mask mandate? 

We took these questions to Dr. Allison Ford Messina, chairman of the Division of Infectious Disease at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, to get answers for you.





As my child heads back to class, what is the best way to protect them from contracting Covid?

Dr. Messina: If your child is age 12 or above, the best way to protect your child is to get your child vaccinated against COVID-19. The Pfizer vaccine is the only one that is approved for ages 12 and up and is a 2 dose series, with the two doses given three weeks apart. Your child will have optimal immunity starting 2 weeks after the second dose.

Even if you are vaccinated, however, wearing a mask while in public, indoor spaces offers even further protection. If your child is younger than age 12, the best way to protect your child in an indoor classroom environment is to have your child wear a mask to school, and wash or santize hands frequently. Try to maintain physical distancing in times when masks cannot be worn, (ie mealtime). Also, in order to protect children under 12, household members who are over 12 can be vaccinated to protect them in the home.


Since masks are optional at my child’s school should I buy a different kind of mask like a KN-95 or are cloth masks sufficient?

Dr. Messina: Some masks such as KN-95s may indeed offer increased capacity to filer virus, but the most important thing is that the mask fits well. A mask should cover nose and mouth and should not have wide gaps under the chin or on the sides. If a cloth mask is worn, it should have at least 2 layers of cloth and should be not be so thin that light passes through the fabric when held up to the light.

(*added from previous question regarding masks) Alternatively, a single use, disposable medical procedure mask could be worn as well. If this type of mask is chosen it still needs to fit correctly. Small, disposable procedure masks are available in child sizes.


What are the concerns about the Delta variant and kids?

Dr. Messina: The Delta variant of the SARS CoV 2 virus is more contagious than the virus that was circulating last year. Those who are unvaccinated (including children) are more likely to catch this virus from others and they are more likely to spread it, too.


Are children getting sicker with the Delta variant?

Dr. Messina: It is not clear that children are getting sicker with the delta variant, but we are seeing proportionally more cases in youger age groups who are not able to be vaccinated yet.


If I’m vaccinated and my child is not, do I still need to wear a mask when out in public? 

Dr. Messina: It still may be a good idea to wear a mask in public–even if your are vaccinated–in order to protect your household members who are not.


If I get a breakthrough case of COVID, is it possible to pass the virus onto my child?

Dr. Messina: A vaccinated person can still get COVID and still may be able to spread it. Although it is unlikely that a vaccinated person would get very ill, they could still get mild disease and spread it to others. They may be LESS LIKELY to do so, but it is possible.


If I’m vaccinated, but my unvaccinated child contracts Covid-is it possible for me to get sick and spread to others?

Dr. Messina: Yes, it is possible. Vaccinated people can still get sick with the Delta variant of COVID. Fortunately, if you do become infected, you are very unlikely to become seriously ill. However, you CAN spread it to others. This is why vaccinated people should continue to wear masks when they go to indoor public spaces.


Are the at-home Covid tests reliable or should I go to a medical facility to take a Covid test in Tampa?

Dr. Messina: The most reliable COVID testing in Tampa Bay are PCR based tests. Most of these are done at medical or laboratory facilities.


If my child or if I have already had Covid, do we really need to get the vaccine and are kids who had Covid earlier in the pandemic contracting the new variant?


Dr. Messina: If you have had a COVID test in Tampa Bay that was positive before and you had COVID, you are still at risk of becoming ill again, as your immunity after natural infection tends to wane after about 90 days. If you get the vaccine after you have recovered from COVID, however, your immunity is very strong—even stronger than if you had just had the vaccine alone in fact.


What are some other steps parents can take to keep their children healthy and prevent illness?

Dr. Messina: Do not send your child to school if they are sick. Even if they have mild cold symptoms, discuss with their pediatrician to see if they need a COVID test before sending to school. Continue to encourage handwashing. In households with children too young to be vaccinated, encourage the older members of the family to get vaccinated. Most children catch COVID from the adults around them. Be sure children are up to date on all of their other vaccines, including the yearly vaccine for influenza.


Anything else you want to add that you think is important for parents to know?

Dr. Messina: Remember that no one strategy to prevent people from getting COVID is perfect. But, as we layer the different strategies– COVID testing, vaccines, plus masks for example–you get a high level of protection. Lets do our best to keep ourselves and others around us healthy.


You can read an earlier interview with Dr. Messina regarding ways to protect your family from Covid-19 here.



Covid Concerns: Common questions answered by BayCare Pediatrician

Kids across Tampa Bay are heading back to school as our state is dealt with a another surge in Covid cases, so naturally there is concern among many families. We have questions too.

We followed up with Dr. Christina Canody, the Pediatric Service Line Medical Director with BayCare, to ask her common questions from families about COVID testing and what they’re seeing right now in Tampa Bay when it comes in kids and covid.

We asked her about the possibility of Covid re-infection in kids and adults (yes, it can and does happen), the concern among the medical community as kids head back to school in absence of full mask mandates, vaccine questions, and more.


We went into summer break feeling pretty good about where we were in the pandemic—vaccines were in arms and masks recommendations were relaxed. And then the delta variant changed all of that.

Dr. Canody: It was overwhelming how quickly this variant multiplied. It was exponential. Every week we saw a doubling in the number of positive COVID tests in Tampa … and then a majority of every COVID test is the Delta variant we have right now.

We had enjoyed very low [positive COVID test] numbers in June and I think everybody took a little step back and said, this is awesome. I think we’re in a good place now. …and then Fourth of July came around, it was a a little more quiet and then boom. So pretty much this last month has been awful.

Wait times in the emergency department, stress on staffing and the number of people that are working, it’s really tough and not only that, we’ve had a record summer for other respiratory illnesses. We saw RSV come back at 10 times the rate it normally is in the summertime and severe—a lot of parents getting high fevers, a lot of older kids being hospitalized, so it felt more like it was the middle of winter with some of our respiratory illnesses in June and July,

And then you put Covid on top of that and now we’re heading back to school. I’ve been calling it a perfect storm and it truly is.


We’ve seen reports that there is an increase in pediatric patients being hospitalized in this most recent wave of Covid. Is one age range more susceptible to hospitalization than others?

Dr. Canody: Still in general, kids under the age of 4 and over the age of 15 have higher hospitalization rates. And then just like every other wave of Covid we’ve seen, those kids between 4 and 14 are the ones that have the higher rates of multi-system inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) and we see that follow by about 3-6 weeks (after [positive covid test and] covid infection), so we’re about a month in and we’ve started to see an uptick on those cases as well.


As Covid cases surge, are you noticing that more kids 12 and older are getting vaccine?

Dr. Canody: I feel like there’s been a little uptick in that, especially in the last three weeks. Parents who have really been considering it, they see the [positive COVID test] numbers going up, they see the hospitalization rates going up.

I feel like there’s a little bit of complacency even among those who are vaccinated because they go, “Oh, I’m vaccinated, I don’t have to wear a mask. I can do what I want to do”, but the truth be known…delta isn’t going to be the last variant, it’s very likely it won’t be and pandemic cycles on average last about three years, so we may only be halfway into this thing.

If we are, we have to wait to see what variants emerge [in future COVID tests] and for now, we’re pretty good because our vaccinations are protective against the variants we’re seeing. Yes you can still get hospitalized, but we’re not seeing death. The people who are in the hospital that are vaccinated are most likely the higher risk individuals.

Delta has put a lot of people in the hospital who have felt like ‘I’m young, I’m healthy, it shouldn’t cause a problem in me so I’m not worried about it”, but now you’re seeing a lot of people back peddling and going “I wish I would have gotten my vaccine.”


What else can parents do to protect our children who are not old enough to receive the vaccine as they head back to school?

Dr. Canody: We always do the five: cover your face, stay in your own space, wash your hands, don’t share things with your friends, and sneeze or cough into your elbow.

We truly believe that masking along with doing those basic hygiene things are still very protective for kids. We know it works. We do it in our environment every day.

I have to be honest—here in an ambulatory clinic where we see patients on a daily basis who are sick, masks keep us from getting sick as well. Washing our hands, wearing a face covering…I deal with a lot of younger children that have viral illnesses who are too young to wear a mask, but yet it still helps protect us from all of those things.

The mask is really our first line of defense when children are too young to be vaccinated.


What would you say to people who continue to refuse to wear a mask or mask their children?

Dr. Canody: We have to realize we’re not just doing it for ourselves, but those around us. Not only our loved ones and our family members, but for our community. It’s a combination of slowing down the numbers, protecting ourselves, protecting those around us, and making sure we’re not promoting the emergence of even more severe variants.

I was in a meeting a couple of weeks ago when we started to see the [COVID test] numbers climb and you could just feel—just that heavy feeling in the room. Everybody felt like we had taken all of these giant steps forward and now we just took several major steps back because of all of the progress we have seen.  We understand that there’s a balance- that we want to keep our economy open, we want to keep everybody’s behavioral health in check and foster the socialization of everybody’s relationships, but there has to be a balance and wearing a mask is a really easy thing you can do to protect yourself and those around you.


Is there concern the next variant could be worse?

Canody: Absolutely. The virus gets smarter. It wants to continue multiplying and infecting as many people as possible so it’s going to mutate to keep going. I think the biggest concern is seeing a variant that does not respond to our vaccines.


There is hope that kids under the age of 12 will be able to get the vaccine in the near future. What are you hearing?

Dr. Canody: What we really anticipate is Pfizer to get complete (FDA) authorization —and that should come sometime in the next month or early September. Right after that, it looks like they should have enough data to apply for emergency use in kids—somewhere in the less than 12 and down to somewhere around 2-5 years old. I don’t know if it will go down to 2. They feel like at 5, they may have a little more data. We’re really hoping to have that no later than the first of October.


One argument from families is that if they, or their child has already had Covid, they have immunity and don’t need the vaccine. What would you tell those people?

Dr. Canody: There’s two parts—the delta variant, most people who have already had covid before this summer, before June did not have the delta variant. The immunity is different. That’s like saying, I got Flu A, I won’t get Flu B this season—that’s not true. You can still get several strains of the same virus and that’s how viruses come back year after year after year. Covid is no different.

There are particular viruses like chicken pox and measles, once you have them you develop a different type of immunity, but in general when we’re looking at coronaviruses, that kind of immunity is not long lasting-you can get several different versions of them.

So I can say—yes, you may be partially protected, but you may not be as fully protected if you are vaccinated, because it works against multiple variants of the spike protein within the virus.

And number two—even if you get a mild infection or are asymptomatic, you can still spread it to others. You can still spread it. You’re not completely immune and you’re immunity is not as good if you were vaccinated.


If I suspect my child may have Covid, what’s the best way to go about getting a COVID test?

Dr. Canody: If somebody is really mild, there’s no reason why they can’t ulitze a walk-in COVID testing facility or even now—some of the COVID tests are actually available over the counter at some of the local pharmacies and drug stores-you just have to be careful that you’re doing it [taking the COVID test] the right way. It’s an unpleasant test and if it’s pleasant, the COVID test hasn’t been done correctly It really should irritate the nose. If you don’t trust you can do an accurate COVID test, then reach out to your provider and be seen by a provider.

We do have monoclonal antibody therapy available for children over the age of 12 who are increased risk for severe infection, so that is a good option for those higher risk individuals.


Are there different symptoms in kids with delta variant compared to last year’s strain?

Dr. Canody: With the delta variant, we’ve seen a lot more symptoms that resemble sinus infections and cold symptoms -scratchy throats, sore throats, cough, nasal congestion. Some have reported changes in their hearing —we’re not seeing as much changes in smell or taste. It is still there in a large proportion, but not as overwhelmingly as we saw with the previous variants.


As a pediatrician, do you think masks hinder learning?

Dr. Canody: Is it optimal, no. We would love to be without the masks at this point, but is it going to protect them? Yes. It’s going to keep kids in school. It’s going to prevent major outbreaks and the last thing we want to see is 2-3 weeks into the school year, a massive outbreak and shutting down schools for cleaning or because there has a been a major uptick in cases.

I’ll be honest with you, the way numbers are right now, we’re concerned because staffing is going to become a major issue and I know that is true of all of our hospitals.


What is the concern about staffing in hospitals?

Dr. Canody: Healthcare is not exempt from the pandemic work shortage. The same thing you are seeing in your restaurants and the retail industry, healthcare is the same way. A lot of people changed jobs during the pandemic. A lot of people decided they wanted a different lifestyle or they retired early.

I think we’re all holding our breath a little bit. Praying for the best and totally expecting the worst and hoping we’ll be pleasantly surprised.


We’ve talked about pandemic fatigue before. We know it’s real, but there are steps we can take as families to protect each other like wearing a mask and getting a vaccine if eligible, right?

Dr. Canody: The one thing I would share-in general, this vaccine has proven to be safe and effective. But a lot of people have come forth with concerns about the vaccine and I give them a seat belt analogy. If you’re in an accident, wearing a seat belt is the safest way to go. Most of the time it’s going to save your life. There is a rare instance where you could be stuck in the car and it could be a more difficult to get out, but in general it’s going to save your life.

The vaccine was designed to decrease hospitalizations and decrease the risk of death. We have been very lucky that we haven’t seen an increase in pediatric death, but we have seen an increase in pediatric hospitalizations.


There was concern among some parents that the vaccine could cause birth defects or fertility issues. It’s pretty clear at this point that you haven’t seen any of that and can debunk this myth.

New from the CDC: Covid-19 safe for pregnant people

Dr. Canody: I would say a majority of newborns I’m seeing, mom was vaccinated during pregnancy and so they’re hopeful not only does that immunity transfer across the placenta but also through break milk so they’re hoping that’s helpful for the young infants as well

And actually it’s been the opposite. When you look at some of the studies, there have been increase in infertility in people post-Covid. So a decrease in sperm counts and more difficulties getting pregnant and difficulties with ovulation have been seen post-Covid.



Laura Byrne
Laura Byrne is an award-winning former television news journalist who spent 15+ years in newsrooms across the state of Florida including Sarasota, Tallahassee, Fort Myers and right here in Tampa Bay where she still freelances on occasion. She covered the political beat, crime beat and every day breaking news during her time in Florida newsrooms, but is now focused on sharing positive news stories and events with families in Tampa Bay. She is a proud mommy of two little boys who keep her on her toes and laughing every day. Her goal is to inspire families just like yours to get out and play and experience all that Tampa Bay and our great state of Florida have to offer! She encourages you to share your stories and upcoming events so we can spread the good news.

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