The Houston Health Department and local medical community, including members of the Texas Medical Center, opened today the first of four free COVID-19 drive-thru testing sites for high-risk symptomatic people.
Today’s testing is open to healthcare providers and first responders experiencing symptoms. It will expand Saturday, March 21, to people 65 and older with symptoms, including fever. After Saturday, it will open to anyone meeting high-risk testing criteria.
The department and Harris County Public Health will open the three other testing sites in the coming days for people pre-identified at high-risk and announce an online and phone-based screening process. People simply showing up to a site will not get tested.
“Testing asymptomatic people is a waste of limited resources since tests are only accurate once symptoms develop,” said Dr. David Persse, local health authority for the Houston Health Department. “Although we understand the concern, please know not everyone needs a test and that we’ve developed a process to identify people for whom testing is necessary.”
The public-private partnership offering the tests includes TMC institutions Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann and CHI St Luke’s Health, and HCA Houston Healthcare.
“It’s important to open this process first to the people on the front lines of protecting everyone else from this disease,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “Healthcare workers and public safety officials are the groups with the highest risk of exposure and potential to infect other people.”
The health departments are not identifying the locations of the 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. Doing so may lead people to being identified and discourage symptomatic people from participating, furthering the spread of COVID-19 in the community.
The first testing site currently has the capacity to test 160 people daily. An end date for the sites has not been determined.
Health officials still recommend that people with symptoms seek testing from their family doctor first before going to a drive-thru site. They also urge people call ahead to let their healthcare professionals know about their symptoms.
“If you are a healthy person with mild symptoms and not seriously ill, please self-quarantine at home,” Persse said. “Most people infected with COVID-19 recover. It’s important we first focus our limited testing resources on the most vulnerable.”
Workers staffing the sites will only collect insurance information and not accept cash. 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 simply show up to a site will not get tested and may run the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19.