Coronavirus testing ramps up in Immokalee as positive cases continue to rise

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More than 1,100 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Immokalee, and the state has ramped up testing to five days a week.

The Florida Department of Health reported 184 positive cases in Immokalee last week – 74 in one day.

Jose Segura said he’s speechless about what’s happening in his community.

“In reality, I don’t have much words about what’s happening,” he said.

Segura is among the steadily growing number of people in Immokalee who have tested positive for COVID-19. Unlike so many of his neighbors, Segura self-isolated while sick.

“I told my supervisor that my results were positive and he didn’t make much of a big deal out of it. He was able to pay me the two weeks that I didn’t work.”

First responders in Immokalee said most people get a positive result and keep working, not just in Immokalee but all over Southwest Florida.

Collier County Commissioner Bill McDaniel said the increase in testing is why we’re seeing the increase in cases.

“We have over 100 positive cumulative cases, so our positivity rate has stayed the same but our increase in positive tests has gone up because we increased our asset base for positive tests.”

Doctors Without Borders found a 36% positivity rate in 235 tests administered in 9 of their clinics from May 1 to June 2. The state average is just over six percent.

The goal now is to get people there who test positive to self-isolate, which means finding places for them to do that – and helping families who can’t quit working make ends meet.

The Department of Health and Collier County said help is on the way.

“We got the Horizon Village reserved out so that if they qualify they can have a place to self-isolate and quarantine,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel also said the county is reaching out to employers to make sure people who test positive don’t lose their jobs. He said the county also have financial programs available to help; the key is getting people to accept it.

Most people in Immokalee work in the service or farm industries, meaning they’re handling food and going into other communities to do work.

County officials said cramped living environments and close working conditions are probably helping to spread the coronavirus in a community that some say is sometimes forgotten.

“It sort of is the redheaded stepchild. We don’t talk about Immokalee the same way we do about what’s going on in Naples,” said Lisa Kefkow with Habitat for Humanity.

Tucked away in Collier, the small, rural community is surrounded by vast farms. A lot of people pass through on their way to Seminole Casino just blocks from downtown.

“The farms in Immokalee are huge suppliers to the entire nation,” Kefkow said.

Habitat for Humanity builds about 30 homes a year where many farmworkers and their families live. Still, many others live in mobile homes, and they were devastated during Hurricane Irma in 2017.

“Trailers that were barely being held together came apart, windows shattered, doors blew out,” Kefkow said.

Housing remains one of the biggest issues in Immokalee.

“The housing stock is horrible. Where’s code enforcement? Where’s the health department that would shut down a broken trailer with two families living in two rooms with 11 people?” Kefkow asked.

She said the farming industry also makes it tough to stay protected from COVID-19.

“Back and forth on a packed bus … out on the field, you’re walking side by side, shoulder to shoulder.”

McDaniel said resources are limited with only 40 percent of the community paying taxes.

“The challenge that I have as the commissioner for Immokalee is money,” he said.

“We’ve got language barriers, we’ve got income barriers, we’ve got cultural barriers.”

Between road improvements for state roads 82 and 29, plus the master plan that was just approved for the Immokalee Regional Airport, McDaniel believes the town is making great progress.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the total number of tests administered at Doctors Without Borders offices. The percentage remains the same.

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