COVID-19 testing ramps up for Houston’s homeless population

There's a serious concern for the health of our homeless population in the Houston area, so testing is about to ramp-up to try to isolate those who are sick and stop the spread of coronavirus.

That project is coming from a state-of-the-art facility in downtown Houston, full of nurturing medical care workers, who treat thousands of Houston's homeless men, women and children.

Like other facilities, Healthcare for the Homeless Houston has made drastic changes to protect its patients and workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

"We had a wonderful group of engineers to make a testing booth for us. The providers are behind a screen that has plexiglass with the arms, like you've seen at other places to test, and we were able to get that up quickly," says Frances Isbell, the CEO of the center.

They are able to test their homeless patients for COVID-19 at the facility because of those protective measures. Then, they are able to be quarantined in city-sponsored hotel rooms while waiting for the test results.

MORE: City leasing hotels for first responders, homeless

The healthcare center will make sure they're transferred to the proper facility for severe illness, if needed.

"They understand what's going on and they talk to the providers about their concerns and fears, especially people living in the streets in encampments or in shelters because that's a large congregate setting, where the risk of transmission is much higher than any other places, similar to what you hear about nursing homes," says Frances. She goes on to say that her facility is turning to other cities with severe outbreaks of coronavirus to learn from them and be prepared to help our city's most vulnerable population.

"There may be a lot more than what we actually know of! A case in Boston is a shelter that has 400 people. They tested everyone and about 140 people tested positive with no symptoms. Later that shelter had very, very sick people. That could be happening here, which is why we're making the decision to go to the shelters and congregate settings and find out," explains Frances.

The healthcare center is partnering with the City of Houston and The Coalition for the Homeless to fight this pandemic by finding those who need tests and treatment. They're working together to help promote health, hope, and dignity for Houston's homeless. Also Frances notes, many people who are homeless have been able to use telemedicine for the first time, either through a government-loaned phone or by borrowing a phone from a shelter. 

For more information,