Houston COVID-19 public testing opens to elderly

Instead of football fans, Butler Stadium on South Main is bringing in those needing testing for the potentially deadly Coronavirus COVID-19.

The site first opened up Friday for health care workers and first responders. City officials say they tested 159 people before reopening the site Saturday morning when screenings were expected to reach around 300 patients. 

From 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., the site would be open to those 65 years and older with symptoms.

"That includes fever; that includes cough, shortness of breath," says Risha Sydney, Special Assistant to the Director of the Houston Health Department.

"We wanted to bring them, and we didn’t want them standing in line in their cars for a long period of time," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who took a tour of the city's first free public site Saturday.

Three additional locations are expected to open within a few days. At Butler Stadium, around 150 workers from police and fire departments, medical teams, and at least five local hospitals made up the staff.

After touring the premises, representatives from U.S. Public Health Services and FEMA called Houston "shovel-ready" stating that the city is ahead in flattening the curve.

However, outside the main building, cameras weren't allowed to get close-ups of the process. Officials say precautions were taken to protect the privacy of patients. Incoming cars were split into four lanes with signs instructing them to let down their windows only by a little. Workers in protective gear and police officers helped guide cars to designated areas.

Patients were also asked to have pre-screening authorization codes ready which they could get by following the city-approved process of calling a screening hotline before arriving.

Health workers say the testing process at the stadium takes less than an hour with results expected back within a couple of days.

"If they test positive, they’re being told to continue self-quarantine or see their doctor, and then follow the protocol from that point forward," says Mayor Turner.

At the start of the spread of the virus in Houston, a shortage of personal protective equipment for staff slowed the process of opening test centers. Now, the city says the Butler site is fully staffed with extra stockpiles for the additional sites on the way.


"The PPEs we need are here already," says Turner. "For the two sites standing up in Harris County, the PPE‘s will be here to stand those up."

With four test sites, the city hopes to get a better idea of community spread of the virus, and eventually see a decline in cases. 

"Houston always goes through trials and tribulations, but we always get through it," adds Sydney.

Residents are encouraged to continue following the pre-screening process to avoid being turned away from testing sites as they open up additional categories for screening. Call 832-393-4220 for information.

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