Houston-area officials work to get COVID-19 testing sites set up

City and county officials say they’re working overtime to get COVID-19 testing sites up and running and not waiting on federal or state help to stop the spread of the virus.

"I know the anxiety level is here," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, gesturing above his head during a press conference Saturday.

He says teams are out checking the homeless and the thousands in the county jail who have close contact with one another. They’re also trying to help those with symptoms who lack medical care.

"There are a lot of low-income individuals. They don’t have a primary physician, so we want them to call the City of Houston hotline, then we will assist them there."

During a separate conference Saturday evening, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo continued to urge people to help stop the spread by postponing large events.

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"Any gathering of 250 people should not happen. Any gathering where people are in close contact should not happen," she says.

City leaders say they’re preparing to open alternate sites for Coronavirus COVID-19 testing during the third week of March. FEMA is expected to add one or two mobile sites as well.

"A lot will depend upon the availability of resources that we have right now, then work to scale up as needed," says Turner.
The city says priority will go to testing first responders, those with doctors' orders and those experiencing symptoms.

A lab is testing a possible case related to a local juvenile facility, but the turnaround of the results has been delayed by the process of getting authorization, followed by waiting for confirmation from a CDC-sanctioned lab.

Meanwhile, when addressing places serving the elderly like assisted living facilities and nursing homes, Judge Hidalgo says the county has issued updated guidelines on what they should be doing.

"For example, ensuring that anyone who comes in, anyone who works there is evaluated every day, and visits are minimized or limited to a resident’s room," says Hidalgo.

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Officials are also asking for patience and less panic while working out testing locations and other details.

"This is not like a hurricane where you can look on the radar and pinpoint where it can land and when it will be out of here," explains Turner.

The mayor is also letting people know that if they can't pay their water bill, the city will not disconnect service through the month of April. He adds, "It’s hard to tell people to wash their hands if they don’t have water."