Florida A&M University COVID-19 Testing Site workers have been named the Tallahassee Democrat 2021 Person of the Year in recognition of their dedication and efforts in the face of the ongoing pandemic.
“The Person of the Year honor goes to all those who dedicate their time to make sure the FAMU COVID-19 testing site at 2507 Wahnish Way runs smoothly, rain or shine, Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.,” the Democrat wrote. “Through alpha, delta and now omicron, there’s a place people know they can count on to get accurate, reliable and speedy COVID-19 test results.”
“At this point in the pandemic, it’s now just referred to as “the testing site,” as if there’s only one in Tallahassee,” the Democrat wrote.
The award goes to Tanya Tatum, FAMU director of Student Health Services, who oversees testing and vaccinations. It also goes to Cynthia M. Harris, Ph.D., associate dean and director of the Institute of Public Health in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Institute of Public Health. Those recognized also include the set-up crew, registration staff, and contract nurses who rotate in and out of the site.
Early on during the pandemic, FAMU President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., approached Harris about opening a testing facility on campus to meet the needs of residents on Tallahassee’s southside.
“This is a tremendous honor for FAMU and our COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination Site. So many people have contributed to its success, in particular Dr. Cynthia Harris and Tanya Tatum, who has served on the frontline from day one,” Robinson said. “The COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination Site exemplifies FAMU’s commitment to the health and well-being of Tallahassee and Leon County as well as our neighboring communities. There is still work to do to bring the pandemic to an end, and we are hopeful that this recognition will bring even more attention to this valuable asset in the battle.”
The FAMU COVID-19 testing site opened April 25, 2020, at Bragg Memorial Stadium, anticipating that it would operate for a couple of weeks. At first, the site had the capacity to test 200 people a day but expanded as the pandemic surged. National Guard members formed part of the initial staff as the Florida Division of Emergency Management, in collaboration with the Florida Department of Health, spearheaded community testing efforts statewide. Faculty, staff and students from FAMU’s School of Allied Health Sciences, College of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, Institute of Public Health, and the School of Nursing volunteered thousands of hours at the site, which relocated to its present location last fall.
Tatum said the recognition is an appreciation of the tireless efforts of those for whom the pandemic remains an unrelenting foe.
“COVID-19 has tested our resolve to serve this community,” she said. “The site has helped redefined the University’s relationship with Tallahassee, and we are both stronger for it.”
Demand for testing at the site has ebbed and flowed, paralleling seasonal peaks and lows of the pandemic as well as the emergence of highly contagious variants. With the arrival of the omicron variant and the end of the holidays, demand has again surged. The site tested 3,835 people on Monday, January 3. More than 500,000 tests have been conducted.
“This recognition shows the need for service to our community in addressing the coronavirus,” Harris said. “As a team, we will continue to be committed to providing testing, especially for those who may not have other options. We have become a community resource for people of all demographics who are now looking at our testing site. As long as the community wants us here, we will be here. The community says it wants this testing site. The sheer numbers say that.”
Presently, FAMU operates the site in partnership with Nomi Health to hire staff to conduct swabbing, PCR and rapid testing. Last fall, the University opened a lab to process results for FAMU students, faculty, and staff. The lab is the result of a partnership between the University and Thermo Fisher Scientific, which made a $25 million donation of diagnostic equipment, test kits and related supplies to a select group of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The Gates Foundation also gave FAMU $1.5 million to operate the lab.
Since 2012, the Tallahassee Democrat has awarded its Person of the Year to someone who has had a great impact on the community. In 2020, the publication recognized frontline health care workers. FAMU Head Football Coach Willie Simmons was named the 2019 Tallahassee Democrat Person of the Year for his impact on and off the field.