What you need to know about COVID-19 testing in Houston

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Sunday, November 15, 2020
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HOUSTON -- Here is the latest information on how and where to find coronavirus testing locations in Houston.

What is the most accurate COVID-19 test?

"The most reliable test is the test with nasal swab," said Houston's Health Authority Dr. David Persse. "That takes a minimum of 24 hours to get back." Nasal PCR tests are tests where a swab is inserted into your nose and the sample is then sent off to a lab to be analyzed. Because the analysis is done at a lab, the process takes longer, however, it is considered the "gold standard" of tests.

What happens when someone receives a positive result?

Those with manageable symptoms should stay home and avoid all person-to-person contact until symptoms subside, Persse said. Health care providers can monitor symptoms remotely and determine when a patient has returned to health. Those who have come in contact with that person may be able to seek out testing at certain sites, even prior to their test results coming in. If conditions worsen, Persse said to seek medical advice and call ahead if going to an emergency department.

What about the 15 minute test we see everywhere?

"The quick test, there is one with Abbott labs now. If you get a positive result, that's reliable," said Dr. Persse. "However, if you get a negative, that is not reliable at all because there's a high negative with that particular test."

Why are the 15-minute tests not considered that reliable?

"They're just not as accurate," said Dr. Ed. Rensimer, an infectious disease doctor who is doing testing at his office. "They're doing them quickly and the products that are out there right now just haven't proven to be as sensitive." Dr. Rensimer adds that if you are symptomatic, get a rapid test. He said if it's negative, get a second opinion. At that point, you should also get a nasal PCR test, which may very well come back positive.

What kind of tests are being offered at the free testing sites?

Most of the free test sites, including ones run by the City of Houston, State of Texas, Harris County, and various other locations, are PCR lab tests. The time to get results back are anywhere from 24 hours to four or five days.

Is there a difference between free sites and private testing that costs money?

Generally, no. Most nasal swab tests are sent to the major labs Quest and Labcorp, whether they are government-run sites or testing in your doctor's offices. The quick tests are mostly offered at standalone emergency room locations, and costs range from $80 to $150, although they are sometimes covered by insurance. Some doctors are also offering sputum tests, where the patient's spit is tested for the virus.

Does the coronavirus test cost anything?

Tests administered through Harris County and the city of Houston are free. Tests offered by private providers are paid through insurance or out-of-pocket payment. Some sites operated though public-private partnerships or at federally qualified health centers also offer free tests for those without health insurance. For payment and testing access questions, residents are encouraged to contact their primary care physicians or local coronavirus hotlines.

City of Houston: 832-393-4220

Brazoria County: 979-864-2167

Fort Bend County: 281-633-7795

Galveston County: 409-978-4040

Harris County: 832-927-7575

Montgomery County: 9365235040

Waller County: 979-826-6063

Where can I get a coronavirus test?

There are two types of testing locations:

Walk-up testing: Some tests are available at health clinics, some CVS pharmacies, urgent care centers, free-standing emergency rooms and hospitals. Those with non-life-threatening symptoms who are seeking on-site testing should call primary care physicians for a consultation first, Harris County Public Health officials recommend. This gives health care providers time to prepare to administer a test by wearing protective clothing and isolating a patient before they come in contact with others.

Drive-thru testing: Large-scale testing sites are now being offered by both private and public providers. Government-funded tests are free to those with and without insurance. Some test centers require prescreening, while others perform screening on-site.

For more sites outside of Houston as well as walk-up sites, view the Texas Department of Human Services database here.

What if a patient with disabilities needs transportation to a testing site?

Houston residents with disabilities can get assistance by calling 832-394-0814, emailing mopdmail@houstontx.gov or visiting www.houstontx.gov/disabilities/.

Here's where you can get tested in the Houston area this week:

The Houston Health Department will offer drive-thru testing at two surge sites affiliated with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Southwest Multi-Service Center, 6400 High Star Drive, and Houston Community College - North Forest, 6010 Little York Rd., will offer nasal self swab tests.

The sites will open Monday through Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Appointments are available at doineedacovid19test.com and on-site registration is also available. Each site has a daily capacity of 1,250 tests.

The department also offers free drive-thru testing via self-nasal swab at the Aramco Services Company, 9009 W. Loop South. The mega testing site will open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The site has a daily capacity of 1,000 tests.

People wanting to get tested at the Aramco site can call the department's COVID-19 Call Center at 832-393-4220.

These are additional locations in the city of Houston where you can get tested this week:

  • Villa Serena Communities, 100 Glenborough Dr.,Monday-Wednesday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. and Thursday and Saturday 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.Drive thru, self-nasal swab,
  • Higher Dimension Church, 9800 Club Creek Dr.Monday-Wednesday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Thursday 8 a.m. - 3 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.Drive thru, self-nasal swab
  • Park Place Regional Library, 8145 Park Pl Blvd.Monday-Thursday 9 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.Drive thru or walk up, self-nasal swab.

Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) and the Houston Astros offer self-oral swab tests daily at Minute Maid Park (Lot C), 2208 Preston. The site features eight drive-thru testing lanes and four walk-up testing lanes. It will open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Schedule your testing through Curative's website.

TDEM and the department will also operate drive-thru sites offering tests Monday through Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at:

  • HCC - Northeast Campus, 555 Community College Drive
  • HCC - South Campus, 1990 Airport Blvd

Appointments for TDEM sites are available on its website.

United Memorial Medical Center (UMMC) will offer nasal-swab testing by healthcare professionals at drive-thru test sites at:

  • Plaza Americas Mall, 7500 Bellaire Blvd
  • Houston Community College - Southeast, 6815 Rustic
  • UMMC Tidwell, 510 W. Tidwell Rd

The sites don't require appointments and will offer testing Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. or until reaching daily capacity of 300 tests. For more information on UMMC test sites can call 1-866-333-COVID or visit UMMC's website.

Curative will provide walk up, self-mouth swab tests Monday through Wednesday and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at three locations, each with a 900 daily test capacity:

  • Memorial Park Running Trails Center, 7575 N. Picnic Lane
  • Kroger, 1801 S. Voss Rd.
  • Kroger, 9303 S. Highway 6
  • Food Town, 2770 N. Sam Houston Parkway West

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