Friday, March 20, 2020

First Houston COVID-19 testing site expands to older adults with symptoms

The first free COVID-19 drive-thru testing site in Houston will expand services on Saturday, March 21, 2020, to symptomatic people age 65 and older.

People 65 and older with cough, difficulty breathing, and fever may call the Houston Health Department COVID-19 call center at 832-393-4220 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to be screened. People who meet the testing criteria will be provided a unique identification code and instructions on where to go for testing.

The site will only accept people with a unique identification code obtained through the screening process. People who show up without an identification code will not be tested.

The Houston Health Department, Harris County Public Health and the local medical community will open three other testing sites in the coming days and announce an online and updated phone-based screening process.

“The drive-thru sites will augment testing by our local medical providers,” said Dr. David Persse, local health authority for the Houston Health Department. “We recommend people with symptoms first seek COVID-19 testing from their family doctor before seeking screening for a drive-thru site.”

On Friday, 159 healthcare professionals and first responders experiencing symptoms received COVID-19 testing at the Houston site. The groups have the highest risk of exposure and potential to infect others.

The public-private partnership offering the tests includes Texas Medical Center institutions Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann and CHI St Luke’s Health, and HCA Houston Healthcare.

The health departments are not identifying the testing sites to prevent people from showing up and being turned away because they did not complete the screening process. The health departments respectfully ask the news media not to report the locations.

Additionally, the health departments respectfully ask news media to refrain from showing close images of the centers when they are operational to protect patient privacy. Close images of people or vehicles may lead to individuals being identified and discourage other symptomatic people from participating, furthering COVID-19 spread in the community.

The first testing site currently has the capacity to test approximately 150 people daily. The testing site will continue operating until further notice.

“If you are a healthy person with mild symptoms and not seriously ill, please self-quarantine at home,” Dr. Persse said. “Most people infected with COVID-19 recover. It’s important we first focus our limited testing resources on the most vulnerable.”

Workers at the sites will only collect insurance information and not accept payment. The information obtained through testing, treatment or services will not be used against immigrants in their public charge evaluation.

The health departments reiterate the sites will only accept people with a unique identification code obtained through the screening process. People who show up to a site without an identification code will not get tested and may run the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19.