HARRIS COUNTY, Texas - Harris County Coronavirus test sites abruptly closed at noon Friday due to extreme heat, as the county heads into a weekend of heat indices as high as 110 degrees.
Hundreds of people, who are under the weather or wondering if they have Coronavirus, are now having to reschedule their appointments after the county abruptly shuttered its testing sites, protecting staff from extreme heat.
“We have to do rotations every 15 to 20 minutes just to keep them out of their own pools of sweat,” said Jennifer Kiger with Harris County Public Health. “The addition of the gowns, the gloves, the masks, the face shields, all of the above in that heat is just unbearable.”
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Harris County Public Health officials say they’re planning to reopen their eight testing sites Saturday morning as early as 6:30 a.m. hoping the heat won’t force them to close early again.
At the Houston Health Department, testing did not shut down despite the heat. Health officials say they planned ahead and rearranged the hours at Butler and Delmar stadiums to conduct testing during the coolest part of the day.
“We started early—8 a.m.,” said Porfirio Villarreal with Houston Health Department. “Usually we are done by 12, 1 o’clock, and so our testing is done during the coolest part of the morning. Also, we instituted frequent breaks.”
In protecting the general public from the heat, the Houston Health Department normally has cooling centers open, but not this summer due to COVID-19. They will be distributing 260 air conditioning units to those who signed up this week.
“Those go pretty fast, so people have called in,” said Villarreal. “They’ve reserved their units.”
The city is also offering general advice on keeping cool.
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“Those people who do not have air conditioning, you want to make sure you take cold showers,” said Villarreal. “That’s gonna help a lot with the heat. That’s better than using an electric fan that just moves the hot air around.”
In Galveston County, the beach patrol has already handled a few heat illness-related calls, and they’re prepared for the possibility of more this weekend.
“Most of these heat exhaustions—we can usually manage them at the beach itself by moving them into the shade or putting them in the air conditioner of a car,” said Peter Davis, Chief of Galveston County Beach Patrol. “But when it comes to heatstroke, that’s an immediate thing. That’s gotta go right away. That’s a life threat.”
As for the Coronavirus testing, Harris County officials say they normally do about 2,200 tests a day across all eight testing sites. Friday they were only able to fit in 1,600 tests because they closed early. They’re scheduled to be open until about 2 p.m. Saturday and closed Sunday. The tests are free, but you have to sign up first on readyharris.org.
For other test site options, go to houstonemergency.org.