On a Florida island for the wealthy, everyone gets a coronavirus antibody test

Clinic said it didn't mean to "create the impression" of preferential treatment.

April 15, 2020, 5:01 PM

Fisher Island, Florida is the richest zip code in the country. The tiny island just off the coast from downtown Miami is only accessible by ferry or private yacht, and the price of real estate ranges from $2 million to $40 million.

“Located off the tip of South Beach, Fisher Island Club is a private luxury community made up of 216 acres and approximately 800 residences representing over 40 countries,” reads the website for the private club that dominates the exclusive island.

It's also one of the only places in the nation where everyone who works and lives there can get a coronavirus antibody test -- a simple blood test used to identify those who have been exposed to the virus who may have developed antibodies.

One of the first positive coronavirus cases in Miami-Dade County was reported on Fisher Island, prompting the island's worried residents to turn to the University of Miami Health System, which has a clinic situated on the island itself, for help. Lisa Worley, a spokesperson for the health system, said the positive case was a factor in the clinic's decision to help the older, well-to-do residents obtain hundreds of tests, enough for everyone.

Government data shows the island now has five to nine confirmed cases, compared to Miami-Dade County's 7,863.

As news of the island testing spread, including in a report by the Miami Herald, a local official questioned the tony island's ability to purchase the tests when the coronavirus testing is in short supply elsewhere in the country.

“I cannot reconcile the shoeless, mask-less, hungry children we fed today with this headline,” Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent of Miami Dade public schools tweeted, linking to the Miami Herald article. “Everyone on exclusive Fisher Island, even the staff, can get tested for coronavirus.”

PHOTO: In this undated file photo, Fisher Island, Fla., is shown.
In this undated file photo, Fisher Island, Fla., is shown.
Gina Pricope/Getty Images, FILE

Outside Florida, broader questions previously were raised about inequality in testing when, early in the crisis, NBA stars and celebrities said they had received coronavirus tests when others could not.

Worley, the spokesperson for the University of Miami Health System also known as UHealth, told ABC News that their intent was not to give preferential treatment to certain communities and said the process for reviewing these requests is undergoing a review.

“While UHealth provided these tests in accordance with our clinical standards, which are designed to address the health needs of all the communities we serve, we understand it may have created the impression that certain communities would receive preferential treatment. That was not our intent,” Worley said in a statement.

“The health system is revising its process for reviewing testing outreach requests to ensure it meets our mission as we work on the front lines to manage this pandemic for the South Florida community,” she said.

Sissy DeMaria Koehne, a spokesperson for the island, told The New York Times that the island paid the bill for the tests that were procured by UHealth. Koehne said that the 1,800 tests purchased were manufactured by BioMedomics Inc. and cost $17 dollars a piece. Testing began on April 6, she said. Koehne did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

Many of the islands’ residents are over 60 years old and were returning from the northeast, which has been hard by the virus. UHealth said it also considered those factors when the request for these tests was received. Last month Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said those traveling from the New York area back to Florida must self-quarantine for 14 days.

Workers on the island were also reportedly tested. Though many of the club's workers commute via ferry, the ferry has cut back on its service as a precaution, and the Times reported only a limited number of employees are still allowed access to the island from outside.

Diane Siegel, 74, a resident of Fisher Island for 24 years, told ABC News the entire island has been tested and said anyone leaving their homes is required to wear masks and gloves.

“We have all been tested,” Siegel said. “Thankfully I tested negative, but the island is still being very strict.” Fisher Island is limited visitors strictly to family, Siegel said, and the island’s restaurants remain closed.

When asked about the controversy of the widespread testing, Siegel pointed out that the residents paid for them.

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