The City of Houston’s first COVID-19 testing site opened Friday, and Harris County opened two more FEMA-sponsored locations last week weekend.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Monday that the county’s free, drive-through sites are open to anyone in the region who is experiencing symptoms of the upper-respiratory disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus, which include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Those people can visit ReadyHarris.org and use the online screening tool, which will determine the need for a test and provide further instructions. Those without access to a computer or internet also can call 832-927-7575 to be screened.
“We want folks who are tested to have symptoms,” Hidalgo said. “If we test folks who are not symptomatic, we may get a false negative.”
City and county officials asked that people who want COVID-19 tests first contact their healthcare provider about testing.
Hidalgo said each county site has the capability to administer up to 250 tests per day.
More than 500 people with COVID-19 symptoms were tested last weekend at the city’s free, drive-through site, according to a news release from the city. First responders and healthcare workers were tested last Friday, the testing expanded last Saturday to people age 65 and older, and last Sunday the testing was open to those with chronic illnesses — including heart disease, asthma, chronic lung disease, cancer or HIV/AIDS – as well as transplant recipients, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women.
Anyone in those aforementioned groups who is experiencing symptoms may call the Houston Health Department’s COVID-19 call center at 832-393-4220 between 9 a.m.-7 p.m. to be screened. Those who meet testing criteria will be given a unique identification code as well as instructions about where to go for testing, according to the city.
The city and county testing sites will only accept people who have been screened. The city said those who show up without an identification code will not be tested and could risk infection.
“If you are a healthy person with mild symptoms and not seriously ill, please self-quarantine at home,” Dr. David Persse of the Houston Health Department said. “Most people infected with COVID-19 recover. It’s important we first focus our limited testing resources on the most vulnerable.”
The city said the testing sites are operating in a partnership with members of the Texas Medical Center, including Memorial Hermann Health System, Houston Methodist Hospital, HCA Houston Healthcare and Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center. Workers at the sites will not accept payment and only collect insurance information, according to the city, which also said “information obtained through testing, treatment or services will not be used against immigrants in their public charge evaluation.”
Dr. Umair Shah of Harris County Public Health said the goal is to have tests results available within two days after they are administered.
A privately operated free testing site that is open to the public opened March 19 at United Memorial Medical Center at 510 W. Tidwell Rd. The drive-through location was scheduled to be open until 6 p.m. Friday and then again next Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
Legacy Community Health also is administering COVID-19 tests at three Houston locations — 3811 Lyons Ave., 1415 California St. and 6441 High Star Dr. For more information, call 832-548-5000.
COVID-19 tests also are being conducted at My Family Doctor at 6430 Hillcroft Ave., according to Houston Public Media. For more information, including costs, visit covid19drivethru.com. Houston Public Media also reported that MD Anderson patients and employees can be tested at MD Anderson Diagnostic Imaging at 6602 Mapleridge St.
As testing capacity increases in the Houston region, more and more cases of COVID-19 are being reported by local officials. As of Tuesday, Harris County had reported a total of 54 cases, which includes a man between 80 and 90 years old who died last week. The Houston Health Department has reported 24 cases of COVID-19 within the city limits.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office reported four cases among its staff last week — three deputies and one office employee. None have contact with county jail inmates as part of their duties, the sheriff’s office said.
According to the World Health Organization, which last week declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, there have been more than 372,000 cases in 194 different countries as of Tuesday, including more than 42,000 cases in the U.S. The disease has led to more than 16,200 deaths globally.
“People have been saying you prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I’m going to change that around a little bit, because this is a tough, gritty city,” U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said last week during a news conference at Houston City Hall. “The worst may be in front of us, but we’re going to be prepared, not only with hope, but with hard work. I think together we will be a very unified community and will get through this together.”