Harris Co. opens COVID-19 testing sites early due to heat

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Potentially dangerous high temperatures forced health officials to adjust test site hours Saturday in Harris County.

Sites in the Cy-Fair and Pasadena area opened at 6 a.m. and mobile sites moved up openings to 7:30 a.m.

Mobile sites are expected to close at 2 p.m. The Cy-Fair and the San Jacinto sites are open until 1 p.m.

The change in hours came a day after Harris County Public Health made the decision to close all of its COVID-19 testing centers early on Friday.

Sites run by the City of Houston, the State of Texas, and most private entities remained open during normal hours.

Another heat advisory was issued Saturday by the National Weather Service from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. Heat index values were expected to reach as high as 110 degrees.

"Our folks are always careful," Harris Co. Judge Lina Hidalgo said earlier this week. "But these days it's just too high. It would endanger our healthcare workers. It's tough, but we have to protect the people who are administering the tests."

Residents with appointments on Friday were notified to come back on Saturday.

The bigger frustration for local officials, however is the fact that getting results from these tests is now taking sometimes a week or more. That's because the larger free testing sites are supported by the federal government, which has contract with national labs to work on the tests. That means tests have to be shipped out of state, and the backlog delays results.

"Frankly, we shouldn't be in this position as a nation. Testing is a tool we have needed from beginning, and if we had testing in February or March, we wouldn't be in these shutdowns," said Hidalgo.

As part of its continued efforts to ramp up testing, the City of Houston will be opening a testing site in the much needed Second Ward. The testing site, set to open next week, will be located at the Houston Community College, Felix Fraga campus. The idea is that it will be closer to many in the Hispanic community who may not be able to get to the larger testing sites.

"The Latino community is getting hit very hard," said State Senator Carol Alvarado, who has advocated for more testing and more medical services in Hispanic communities. "Just in the city of Houston, over 4800 Latinos have tested positive. That's a little over 20 percent of confirmed cases just in the city of Houston."

Alvarado says while the opening of more testing sites would help, she believes state lawmakers need to work on more comprehensive improvements when they go back to the legislature next January. "Many of us have tried in the last decade to get an expansion of Medicaid. We have the largest number of uninsured people in the state. It's a disgrace, it's a shame, and we need to do better next session."

For more information, visit www.publichealth.harriscountytx.gov.
Copyright © 2020 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.