Immokalee quickly becoming the epicenter of COVID-19 cases in SWFL

Posted at 7:03 PM, May 25, 2020

IMMOKALEE — Immokalee is a city of fewer than 30,000 people, but right now, it has more confirmed COVID-19 cases than Fort Lauderdale.

With that number continuing to go up, one doctor we spoke with said the state needs to act, and fast.

“We are seeing alarming signs that this is leading to the second wave," said Dr. Seth Holmes, who traveled to Immokalee from the University of California Berkeley.

He arrived a month ago when testing was first being made available.

“We need farm workers to be able to provide us with food. We need to protect them," said Dr. Holmes.

Since that initial round of testing was conducted at the beginning of May, the cases have continued to rise dramatically.

“There was a spike of almost 40 cases from one day to the next, and that is in the context of very limited access to tests," said Gerardo Chavez, with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Chavez said, while a rise in cases was expected after the Department of Health provided free testing, there’s another reason why Immokalee is the only area in southwest Florida that is showing up in red on the DOH website.

“This is not something that happened just because. It happened because people there are poor, they live overcrowded. They travel to work under not very safe conditions many times, and that makes them the perfect place for COVID-19 to spread," said Chavez.

But while people in Immokalee are much more susceptible, they also have much less access to testing. While there were only three days of walk-up testing there, over in Lee County, there has been free drive up testing every day for weeks at CenturyLink Stadium.

“We need something like free testing for everyone, everyday, and it needs to be open late, it needs to be done in a way that everyone feels comfortable going," said Dr. Holmes.

Dr. Holmes said, he was planning to leave at the end of May, but with the situation in Immokalee getting worse, he’s changed his plans.

“Right now, it doesn’t feel like it’s under control, it feels like it’s out of control, and so it doesn’t feel like I should leave yet," said Dr. Holmes.

We did reach out to the DOH to see if they have plans for another walk-up testing site in the future, but we did not get a response.