10 employees test positive for COVID-19 at Houston Forensic Science Center

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surroundin

At least 10 employees at the Houston Forensic Science Center have tested positive for COVID-19, and about a dozen more are self-quarantined while awaiting test results.

HFSC says they are now contracting with a private laboratory to do weekly COVID-19 testing for staff members.

On Monday, The Bode Technology Group will begin testing at HFSC’s downtown facility. They have committed to providing test results within 48 to 72 hours after collection, a timeframe that allows for better mitigation of the virus’ spread.

“We have a dual goal of protecting the health and safety of our staff and continuing our essential operation throughout this pandemic,” said Dr. Peter Stout, HFSC’s CEO and president. “We can do neither when nearly 50 percent of people are asymptomatic, and we are waiting a week or more for test results. By contracting with Bode, we will have results in a timeframe that allows us to quickly get positive staff members offsite.”

HFSC says about 10 percent of the total staff has either tested positive or are self-quarantined while awaiting results. With a staff size of about 200, they say an outbreak could easily halt operations.

HFSC will pilot the program in July to determine if more quickly identifies staff member’s positive for COVID-19 and makes it easier to slow the spread of infection.

“Currently, more than 10 percent of our staff is out of commission,” Dr. Stout said. “We respond to homicides and officer-involved shootings, some of the most heinous and high-profile crimes in the city. We must find a way to remain operable for the safety of the community, but we also have an obligation to ensure the safety of our staff.”

HFSC is a local government corporation that provides forensic services to the City of Houston and other local agencies. HFSC is overseen by a Board of Directors appointed by the Mayor of Houston and confirmed by the Houston City Council. Its management structure is designed to be responsive to a 2009 recommendation by the National Academy of Sciences that called for crime laboratories to be independent of law enforcement and prosecutorial branches of government.