Harris County in partnership with FEMA has opened a COVID-19 test site at Stallworth Stadium currently limited to healthcare workers and first responders who show symptoms.
Testing began Saturday afternoon with a capacity of 250 tests per day. Another Harris County site will come online today. Both are tasked with serving its region of the county.
Mac McClendon, director for the office of Public Health Preparedness at Harris County Public Health said it was important to start testing with those in the frontline of the fight against the virus.
“If we don’t protect them, who is going to protect us in the community,” he asked. “If our health care workers become ill, become sick and have to isolate themselves for days it impacts the healthcare delivery system of the county and region. That is not a good thing for the public.
“It is the same for the first responder community.”
Capt. Raquel Peat, US Human Health Service, said the next group accepted would be those aged 65 and older who show symptoms. McClendon added the site hopes to go live Monday or Tuesday to the public. People will not be able to simply drive up and be tested. Instead, they will need to have a code after completing a screening process. An online app will be made available to the public that will ask a set of questions. If warranted, the next step will be a human interaction that would follow with a site visit.
There are two lanes of traffic feeding three stations at the site. The first station takes temperature. The next station is for data collection and the third is for swabbing. Visitors will stay in their car through the process. The swabbing station involves a swab in a nostril for at least five seconds. The sample will be refrigerated and sent Fed Ex to the site’s testing partners Labcorp and Quest.
“Labcorp and Quest can only run so many samples nationally,” McClendon said. “So the sites are limited in how many tests can be performed.”
The opportunity for everyone to be tested has been a hot topic that was addressed by McClendon. It comes down to available tests and resources.
“We know the public out there is nervous and frankly, they are scared,” he said. “There is only so much tests available and so much capacity available to do this. We have to focus on the people who actually need the test.”
McClendon said someone who needed the test might be missed if it went to someone did not need it.
“If you are healthy, you don’t have any signs or symptoms and you are following what the state government, county government and local government is asking us to do, social distancing, those non-pharmaceutical interventions, washing your hands, face, and you are not sick, you don’t need testing,” McClendon said.
A timetable is not set up for the testing site’s length of stay but Peat said it was important to make sure every American who needs a test will be able to get a test.
“The key thing is we will get through this as a public,” she said. “We will get through this as Americans and not to panic because we are making sure every American is safe as we move forward.”