North Houston’s first COVID-19 testing site opened Thursday morning at United Memorial Medical Center, 510 W. Tidwell Rd., and Mayor Sylvester Turner said more are coming in the days ahead.
The drive-through testing site opened at 10 a.m. and will close at 8 p.m., according to an announcement by U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. The site will be open again Friday from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. and then Monday through Friday of next week from 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
“The testing has not been moving fast. Tests that should have been (produced) in January have not be done,” Jackson Lee said during a Thursday morning news conference at the testing site. “But we have a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Dr. Joe Varon of United Memorial Medical Center said everyone who goes to the testing site will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms, which include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Those who are suspected of having the upper-respiratory disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus will then undergo a brief nasal swab test.
Varon said test results will be available between 4 and 24 hours afterward.
“What we’re doing today and the next few days is to test people regardless of insurance status – whether you have insurance or don’t have insurance,” Varon said. “Once we get the results, we will call you. First we’ll call the local health office, and then we’ll let you know whether you’re positive or not.”
Aside from driving to the testing site, Varon said anyone who thinks they may be infected with COVID-19 should be isolating themselves for a period of 14 days unless their test comes back negative.
Less than two hours after testing began, there was a long line of vehicles near the site.
“Please remember social distancing,” Varon said.
Turner, who was on site for the news conference, said later Thursday that the city and Harris County will soon open a total of four more free testing sites in a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Turner said the first will open Friday at Butler Stadium, 13755 S. Main St., and the initial focus will be testing first responders and healthcare workers for COVID-19.
After that point, Turner said citizens will be informed about how they can go online or call to be pre-screened for a COVID-19 test. If a test is determined to be necessary, people will then be assigned to a testing site.
Turner said more testing sites will open as the necessary supplies are received.
“These sites are only for high-risk groups with symptoms that have been through a screening process. People who show up who haven’t been properly screened will not be tested,” Turner said. “People who have shown symptoms have gone through the screening process. As we scale up in the next week or two, we’ll be able to do more (testing).”
Cases of COVID-19 have begun to spike in the Houston area, where the first positive test was reported March 4. As of Thursday afternoon, a total of 35 people in the city and Harris County had tested positive for the disease — along with several others in surrounding counties.
Harris County reported its first coronavirus-related death, a man between 80 and 90 years old who had lived in a nursing home, on Thursday.
According to the World Health Organization, which last week declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, there have been more than 207,000 confirmed cases in 166 different countries, including more than 7,000 cases in the United States. Globally, the disease has led to more than 8,600 deaths.
The elderly and those with underlying health conditions are at higher risk for serious complications from COVID-19. Turner said Thursday that there is emerging evidence that younger people also are vulnerable.
“Congresswoman Lee, thank you so much,” Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said in reference to the testing site that opened Thursday. “Houston is grateful to you, Harris County is grateful to you, because of what you’ve been able to deliver to the citizens of this community.”