Saturday, March 21, 2020

Houston's COVID-19 site broadens testing to symptomatic people with chronic illnesses

Houston’s first free COVID-19 drive-thru testing site will broaden services to people of any age with chronic illnesses on Sunday, March 22.

People with chronic illnesses experiencing cough, difficulty breathing and fever, the common COVID-19 symptoms, can call the Houston Health Department’s COVID-19 call center at 832-393-4220 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to get screened. They will receive a unique identification code and instructions on where to go for testing.

Examples of chronic illnesses include heart disease, asthma, chronic lung disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS. Transplant recipients, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women are also eligible for COVID-19 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 get tested.

Previously, only healthcare providers, first responders and people 65 and older with symptoms received COVID-19 testing at the site. 

The Houston Health Department, Harris County Public Health and the local medical community plan to 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.

Dr. David Persse, local health authority for the Houston Health Department, recommends people with COVID-19 symptoms first check with their family doctor before seeking screening at a drive-thru site.  

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 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,” 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.