StarMed opens relocated testing site at south Charlotte light rail station

CHARLOTTE — StarMed Healthcare’s new COVID-19 testing site at the Archdale light rail station along South Boulevard, which was supposed to be open on Monday morning, opened on Tuesday morning.

The site was relocated from the South Boulevard area near Arrowood Road after frustrated residents in the Starmount neighborhood complained about cars in line blocking their driveways at the old location, according to the company’s CEO, Dr. Michael Estramonte.

Estramonte said in a news conference on Friday that StarMed’s South Boulevard testing site was moving from its location near Arrowood Road to the Archdale light rail station on Monday. But on Monday, the site had not reopened.

Estramonte told Channel 9 anchor John Paul on Monday morning that the site would be aiming to open by Tuesday. StarMed’s operating hours at the new location will remain the same -- 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. People don’t need an appointment and tests are free.

>> For more information about StarMed’s COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, click here.

Estramonte also told Channel 9 the company had also hired off-duty police officers to help with security and traffic control at most sites for the next few weeks.

“The Archdale location will allow us more space and our upgrade in safety and traffic control will help with the huge increase in demand we’ve seen for testing in the past month,” Estramonte said. “StarMed will continue working to make every patient’s experience as fast and efficient as we can.”

On Tuesday, though, some people were still lining up for tests at the old location, unaware that the testing site had moved. Channel 9 reporter Gina Esposito helped inform confused drivers waiting at the old spot that they needed to head to the light rail station. Some said they had been waiting at the closed site for more than an hour on Tuesday.

StarMed eventually stationed a staff member at the old location to direct drivers to the light rail station.

Estramonte told Channel 9 that traffic control at the new location was running much smoother. Channel 9 also saw an increased security presence of off-duty CMPD officers and National Guard members.

Over the past week, Estramonte said they’ve tested more than 40,000 people. He said the surge in testing is overwhelming but they are doing the best they can.

“I haven’t seen my two teenage kids since before Christmas, and lot of the staff haven’t seen their families,” Estramonte said. “Nobody is resting until we get those results.”

StarMed had to shut down its south Charlotte COVID testing site last Wednesday as a result of two incidents, both involving guns.

In one incident, StarMed officials told Channel 9 they received reports of a man with a rifle at the South Boulevard site who got into an altercation with a staff member. In a separate incident, a neighbor who was armed with a gun said he asked someone waiting in line in his neighborhood not to block the driveways with his car. That led to a heated argument.

StarMed tweeted around 1:30 p.m. that the testing line at the site near Arrowood Road was closed for the day.

With long lines day after day winding through neighborhood streets, tensions had reached a boiling point.

Chopper 9 Skyzoom flew over the area Wednesday afternoon to see what neighbors have been dealing with -- the line of cars stretched all the way down and around one neighborhood, and all the way out of the camera’s line of sight.

Channel 9 reporter Tina Terry spoke with both of the people involved in the altercation that led StarMed to pause its testing for the day.

James Wood said he had just gotten home from work at his security job when he noticed people in the line who were parked in front of driveways in his neighborhood. He said he asked a driver not to block the driveways and that led to an argument, but Wood said he never pulled his gun.

“I came out to inform somebody that they was parking illegally, they wanted to get extra about it,” Wood said. “I never even reached for it (the gun). I said, ‘I know you feel threatened because I have it.’”

Edgar Garcia said he was the driver involved in that argument. He said he had been waiting in line for a test for about five hours at the time of the argument.

“I got out of my car and I said, ‘You know what, I’m not intimidated by you,’” Garcia said. “I said, ‘I don’t need you to be disrespecting people out here or disrespecting me.’”

Neighbors said the incident highlights a major problem with the StarMed testing site.

“When their driveways get blocked, they can’t get out,” said Gail Thomas. “If their cars are too tight, there is nowhere for them to go and they have to wait until somebody moves.”

Mary Broderick is a resident of the Starmount neighborhood. She said that for weeks she hasn’t been able to go anywhere in the mornings or afternoons because her driveway is constantly blocked by aspiring COVID-19 test takers.

She said she has to negotiate with the drivers, who could possibly be COVID-19 positive, and some aren’t always happy to move.

Broderick said she is triple-vaccinated and feels for the people who want to be tested for COVID-19 during the omicron surge, but she just wants her and her neighbors to be treated with respect.

“Please respect our driveways. You don’t know who lives in these homes, what kind of disabilities they may have or anything like that,” she said. “We need to go. Why can’t we go when we want to go? Should I stop in front of your driveway?”

Estramonte told Channel 9 he was aware of the problem but had not at that point found another place in the community to test yet.

“People are exhausted, that site was never meant to be a site where cars backed up into the community,” Estramonte said. “Let’s band together. Hopefully, this is just a couple more weeks and we’ll be over this.”

StarMed told Channel 9 the other incident that happened Wednesday involved a man with a rifle and one of their staff members. The company closed testing early due to both situations.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police sent the following statement to Channel 9:

“At 9:45 a.m., Officers received a call stating that a male was pointing a gun at people at a StarMed testing site on the 6800 Block of South Boulevard. Upon arrival, officers spoke with all parties involved and determined that no crime had occurred, although there was a disturbance.”

Channel 9 has asked whether the statement was in reference to the confrontation between Wood and Garcia, or the situation involving the man with the rifle, but police have not clarified.

StarMed officials told Channel 9 they have requested the assistance of the National Guard or armed security.

“Law enforcement responded to the situation. No arrests were made, and no laws were broken,” StarMed Healthcare said in a statement. “Out of an abundance of caution, StarMed Healthcare has suspended operation at our South Boulevard location until we can secure additional security via the National Guard or armed security services for that location.”

On Thursday, Estramonte told Channel 9 that StarMed was able to bring in off-duty CMPD officers to help with security and traffic control for the next two weeks, not only at the South Boulevard site but at most testing sites. The officers began working at the sites on Friday, Jan. 7.

Earlier this week, StarMed pleaded with the public to not berate or physically threaten their team who are doing their very best to end a pandemic they didn’t start.

(WATCH: More providers stepping up as COVID testing demand skyrockets)

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