As Texas inched closer to lifting COVID-19 restrictions on some businesses, Houston area health officials on Monday ramped up testing with the plan to safely send people back to work.
Among the boosts in regional testing included new drive-thru sites in Houston, Shenandoah and Sugar Land, where United Memorial Medical Center on Friday closed a testing site at the Smart Financial Centre. As of Monday, the for-profit hospital based in Acres Homes is operating four sites in the Houston area.
In Houston, municipal health officials pointed UMMC to where another free testing site should be located, choosing the Barnett Sports Complex parking lot in the Golfcrest neighborhood for its proximity to vulnerable communities and gaps in their testing data. The stadium site, when opened Monday morning, neighbors zip codes with some of Harris County’s highest rates of confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to public health data.
Future UMMC sites will be selected in the same manner, city officials said.
U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia said the testing site is located in her congressional district, which is predominantly Latino. Many residents, she said, do not have health insurance.
Councilman Robert Gallegos urged undocumented residents to come to the stadium to be tested.
During a news conference Monday, Mayor Sylvester Turner said residents of those communities live on the margins.
“They’re not asking when they’re going to re-open (businesses), but what are you going to do to keep us safe,” Turner said.
Bolstered testing will further help identify where the bulk of the COVID-19 cases or and how to send people back to work “in a safe and responsible way,” he said.
The city will also begin a series of mobile testing sites at a different community center every week. On Tuesday, testing will begin at the Kashmere Multi-Service Center. The Hiram Clarke and Third Ward Multi-Service Center will be future sites.
Public health experts have said testing is vital to preventing new outbreaks as states begin rolling back restrictions. Hours before Gov. Greg Abbott announced that most businesses could reopen at limited capacity as soon as Friday, UMMC’s top doctor expressed worry that loosening stay-at-home orders could have grave implications, even to those who had previously tested negative.
“People are going to think that because they are going out now, to work, we’re free and can have parties,” Dr. Joseph Varon said. “Make no mistake. Coronavirus is here to stay for awhile.”
The latest testing site at Barnett Stadium is not city-operated but is receiving financial backing from Houston through federal testing funds from the CARES Act. Turner has also pledged the use of Houston Police Department officers for security.
“Whatever is needed to supplement their efforts,” Turner said, without providing specific sums on what UMMC would receive.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo also announced plans to double its mobile testing sites to four — meaning a potential 1,600 people could be tested each day at county facilities.
In Fort Bend County, officials there started the week by opening a second site in Sugar Land — without elaborating where it would be housed — addition to its testing facility at the county fairgrounds in Rosenberg.
The testing site at Woodforest Stadium in Shenandoah was the first government-led testing site in Mongtomery County since health officials expressed concerns on their lack of testing supplies. The site opened for one day only with enough tests for up to 200 people that day.
Source : chron.com