Drive-thru, $200 coronavirus testing stopped in Panama City

Florida Coronavirus News

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — An Alabama entrepreneur said Sunday that his planned $200 a pop, cash only, drive-thru, coronavirus testing operation was a public service. But after concern from city officials, the new business may be over before it began.  

Scott McArdle, the owner of Gulf Coast Molecular Laboratories in Spanish Fort, Ala., was planning to open the drive-thru service in a parking lot in Panama City on Monday. But on Sunday, he said the plan was on hold after receiving calls from city leaders. 

“First off, they tried to say we were not authorized by the property owner,” McArdle said. “Once we established that … they said, ‘Well, but you haven’t gotten authority from the Public Health Department to do this.’”

Panama City Commissioner Mike Nichols said he was involved in the situation.

“When I became aware of a pop-up testing site and the fees that were going to be charged, I wanted to make sure that it was a legitimate testing site and was coordinated through the Department of Health in Bay County. Once I was aware that the site was not, I relayed information from the health department to the owners of the property that these facilities need to be coordinated with the health department,” Nichols said. “The owners, as well, recognize the concerns and will not allow the pop-up site to operate until the site coordinates with the state. It was a fully coordinated effort with several agencies, including Congressman Dunn and Senator Gainer’s offices to protect the citizens of Bay County. I welcome testing locations approved through the state and stand with Governor DeSantis in not charging citizens for testing.”

When asked if he had checked in with Florida’s Department of Health about COVID-19 testing McArdle suggested his partnerships with local doctors meant that he was covered by essentially doing the same testing they were doing in their offices. 

“We’re trying to do something to be helpful and we’re getting push back, after push back,” McArdle said. “Would it generate money? Absolutely, it would. That’s no different in my opinion than any doctor seeing patients.” 

The tests, the employees and the machines that examine the tests all cost money, he said, adding that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ comments about free testing had been, “ill-informed.” He added that it would take three days or more for patients to get their results.

“Walmart is not giving away Tylenol and Ibuprofen for free,” McArdle said.  “We’re charging a reasonable fee for a reasonable service in a time that the public is looking for it.”

Florida’s Department of Health in Bay County said they have “received calls from several persons concerned about the testing and the charge of $200.” 

They added that consumers should report anyone who charges money for coronavirus testing to state authorities.

“We want anybody to know they shouldn’t be paying out of their pocket for any testing and if they see or hear of that they need to report it to the Attorney General,” said Heather Kretzer, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health in Bay County. “All testing is supposed to be coordinated through the Department of Health.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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