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Free COVID-19 testing on South Side as Pima County opens site

Expanded hours for free COVID-19 testing by the Pima County Health Department will start Saturday, with free antigen tests offered place five days a week.

Testing, free to everyone age 5 and up, will be at the Abrams Public Health Center, 3950 S. Country Club Rd., from 1-8 p.m. daily, Tuesdays through Saturdays, officials announced.

The site is part of “the county’s commitment to ensure adequate and equitable access to testing for our residents,” Dr. Theresa Cullen, director of the Pima County Health Department, said Tuesday.

Free vaccines are also available on the third floor of the Abrams Center, Monday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. That county site provides the Pfizer vaccine, which was granted full approval by the Food and Drug Administration this week.

Vaccinations are also available for free at other Pima County sites.

The Health Department encourages anyone who receives a negative test result and is not experiencing COVID symptoms to get a vaccine if they haven’t already. Cullen has said in the past that she encourages everyone to get vaccinated, adding that the shots are safe and effective.

Antigen testing uses nasal swabs and gives results in 15 minutes, which means results can be given on-site.

Anyone who tests negative but continues to experience COVID symptoms can also get a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test to back up negative results, but results for PCR tests can take a few days to receive. However, PCR tests are highly accurate, according to Pima health officials.

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Anyone who tests positive for either the anitgen or PCR test should isolate themselves immediately, the health department advises.

Cullen said that right now, Pima County is administering about 1,400 COVID tests per day. This is an increase from the past few weeks, she said, but an expected one as the increase in cases in the county and state during August — largely spurred by the Delta variant — raises concerns in the community.

The Abrams Center will continue to offer free testing for several weeks, but this service is contingent on funding, the Health Department said.

The state of Arizona recently limited the amount of funding being provided for testing, but Cullen said that the state is still funding the county’s testing centers at the Tucson International Airport, which tests daily, and is also providing support for testing at the Ellie Towne Flowing Wells Community Center.

Those sites are currently the only fixed testing site being operated by the county, but there are several pop-up sites. They each keep regular hours though their testing methods vary. Cullen said she encourages anyone with the means to pay for testing from a private provider, or has testing  at a pharmacy or other location covered by their health insurance, should do so as county sites are meant to ensure testing for those who can't afford it or get to sites easily.

Early testing sites were all funded by the county, which Cullen said distinguished the county's approach to the pandemic. Cullen said officials want to keep up with demand for testing with this site and continue to expand testing if the number of people seeking tests continues to increase.

Arizona has allocated about $14.4 million to Pima County, or about 3 percent of the $416 million in federal funds designated for epidemiology and lab services in the state. Pima County has spent more than $49 million on COVID-19 testing since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a letter from County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member.

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Pima County Health Department

Pima County will offer free coronavirus testing at the Abrams Public Health Center near the Kino Sport Complex on Tucson's South Side starting Saturday. The new testing site is part of the county's effort to keep up with an increased demand for testing taking place during the current spike in COVID cases.

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