If you live in Miami Beach, you're probably wondering whether to freak out about Zika.
That's certainly understandable, and if an emergency Zika meeting yesterday proved anything, it's that even the public officials we look to for guidance don't have all the answers. Meant to be informational, Wednesday's meeting instead erupted with all the theatrics of a Real Housewives aftershow as an information-starved city commission clashed with public health officials and a room packed with vocal, angry residents protesting naled, a controversial pesticide that's banned in the European Union and was rejected by Puerto Rico.
Commissioner Michael Grieco suggested that people are afraid mostly because they don't know enough about the disease, which totally resonated with me as a South Beach resident. So when I heard about free Zika tests being offered to Miami Beach residents in the affected zone, I left work to get one.
As someone who both lives on the Beach and works in the news business, I was surprised the free testing hadn’t crossed my radar until Wednesday. I didn’t get a postcard in the mail telling me about it or see a flier posted in my apartment building. City officials never sent out a news release about the weeklong testing, and it doesn’t appear they posted about it on social media either.
Instead, a co-worker forwarded me a photo she saw someone post on Facebook — and that guy said he just happened to find a discarded flier about the free tests on the sidewalk.
I was the only one there for testing when I showed up in the first-floor community room at the Miami Beach Police Department, where the testing is taking place this week. I counted 15 employees sitting behind long tables at stations to hand out paperwork and urine sample cups.
Filling out the forms was the longest part of the process, and even that took maybe ten minutes. I was handed a consent form explaining that only the evaluation team would have access to my information and that identifying details about me would not be included. The form asked if I was pregnant, if I had experienced any symptoms, and if I'd been having sex, though oddly there were no questions as to whether I'd been using protection or taking any other precautions such as using bug spray.
After filling out the paperwork (which was available in English, Spanish, and Kreyol), I was handed a urine sample cup and pointed in the direction of the restroom. Upon returning the cup, I was told that it would take two to four weeks to receive the results and that if I never heard from them again, it meant I was in the clear.
The testing was free, and the whole ordeal cost me only $1 (to park). From the time arrived to the time I paid for my parking, the whole process took just 23 minutes. Plus, I got a free can of bug spray, which was nice because I didn’t have any on hand.
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The flier I received said testing is open to Miami Beach residents in the Zika zone (from Eighth to 28th Street) and asked participants to present a photo ID showing their address. No one checked mine, but my address was part of the voluntary information I provided on the form. There were instructions saying all of the fields were optional, though, so if you live somewhere else and you're feeling lucky, give it a spin.
The free testing is available courtesy of the Florida Department of Health for two more days at the Miami Beach Police Department, located at 1100 Washington Ave. The actual meeting place is in the community room, which is on your left through the double doors when you walk into the lobby.
Residents can get a test from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then again from 5 to 7 p.m. today and Friday. For more information, the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade is taking questions about the process at 305-324-2400.
Of course, if you don't live in the Zika zone and want to get tested, you're probably out of luck.