By Kevin Deutsch
More than 120 city employees in Coral Springs tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the city’s announcement of a robust new testing regime, according to an internal memo.
“As we enter into the New Year holiday weekend, I wish I could share better news regarding the spread of COVID-19 among employees,” City Manager Frank Babinec wrote to city employees in a Dec. 30 email. “Since my last communication, positive cases for staff have more than doubled, with over 120 positive members of our organization.”
The City of Coral Springs has approximately 1,154 employees.
“The safety, health, and wellness team is working with all of our folks with Covid to ensure they get what they need. While the illness from this variant appears to be much less severe, its aggressive spread is impacting many industries, including local government.”
A day before Babinec’s email, the city announced its rollout of mandatory RT-Lamp testing, which relies on a self-administered nasal swab. The test can detect the coronavirus 12 to 18 hours before a rapid antigen test, and is more cost-effective and confidential than other testing forms, including PCR and antigen tests, according to the city.
For city staff working in person, the daily test is now mandatory as part of Coral Springs’ “test to work” policy, and “all city staff are required to test at the start of their workday,” Babinec wrote.
Babinec said employees must wear N95 masks inside of city facilities, “except while in your office working alone,” and are required to stay home when sick.
Babinec also revealed that Broward County’s distribution of at-home rapid test kits at local libraries, including one in Coral Springs, caused headaches for the city this week. Demand for the coveted tests was high, and supplies quickly exhausted.
“The lack of planning caused traffic disruption and several calls for service to our police department,” Babinec wrote. “I appreciate everyone called in to help assist with frustrated citizens and traffic tie-ups due to the distribution.”
In August, Dr. Peter Antevy, the city’s medical director, introduced RT-Lamp testing for city employees, relying on weekly test samples to detect the virus and try and prevent its spread. With the rise of Omicron, Antevy and the city shifted to surveillance testing seven days a week to identify potentially COVID positive employees, aiming to prevent the spread of the disease to others.
Coral Springs is using “pooled testing,” in which up to four employees at a time place their swabs in a single tube for lab testing.
“That allows us to do widescale testing that’s highly accurate for little cost [and] protect the entire workforce…we can find out early enough if someone has COVID around you to protect you from getting the virus,” Antevy said in a video for city employees.
“I’m so proud that our city is the first municipality in the country to be doing this testing,” Antevy said.
According to city officials, Coral Springs and the Town of Davie are currently the only municipalities using daily surveillance COVID testing to prevent the virus’ spread.
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- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.
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