NEW: The Houston Health Department laboratory is now conducting #COVID19 testing for specimens collected by medical providers from patients who meet CDC COVID-19 testing criteria. Info: https://t.co/pLPQqzoDnD @HoustonTX @HoustonOEM @hcphtx @FortBendHealth @GCHDinfo #hounews pic.twitter.com/QP6sKKBnK3— Houston Health Dept (@HoustonHealth) March 4, 2020
"The city of Houston is monitoring information about COVID-19 and is responding to the public health threat," said Mayor Sylvester Turner. "I am gratified the CDC has approved local COVID-19 testing in our Houston Health Department lab. Local testing capacity is an important step in speeding up the testing process so that we can have the information needed to respond quickly and efficiently should COVID-19 reach our community."
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The city said COVID-19 results are expected within 24 hours of the arrival of specimens to the lab, which serves at the regional public health laboratory for a 17-county region of Southeast Texas.
Until now, the lab has prepared, packaged and shipped specimens to the CDC lab in Atlanta for COVID-19 testing, a process which took approximately 48 to 72 hours.
The lab currently has one testing kit with capacity to test 700 specimens, which equates to approximately 350 patients. The CDC said it will expedite additional kits as needed to meet the demand of local health department labs.
"Based on the current level of local COVID-19 testing, the Houston Health Department lab anticipates operating within capacity but is prepared to escalate as needed," the city announced.
The CDC is currently requesting COVID-19 specimens that test positive be sent to the CDC lab for further confirmation, but local testing is considered actionable.
The Houston Health Department received COVID-19 test kits as part of the initial CDC roll-out to state and local health department labs, but those kits were not initially approved for use based on issues with one of the targets of the test.
"Medical providers who have a patient who meets CDC COVID-19 testing criteria should continue to follow normal disease reporting protocol to their local health departments," said the city.
People who are sick with a fever, cough or have difficulty breathing and have traveled to an area with a COVID-19 outbreak or been in contact with a person with confirmed COVID-19 should seek medical attention immediately.
People who do so must call ahead to let the healthcare professionals know about their symptoms and travel.
More Houston-specific COVID-19 updates can be found at HoustonEmergency.org.