13 Investigates: Houston area lags state in testing, supplies

CONROE, Texas (KTRK) -- Texas Governor Greg Abbott pledges to increase testing by 10 percent every day in Texas, and promises testing supply chains are starting to loosen up, but a 13 Investigates analysis shows it's not showing up yet in many Houston-area counties.

It is most apparent in Montgomery County, north of Houston. The county received just 64 test kits from the State of Texas.

"Sixty-four tests," Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough told 13 Investigates' Ted Oberg, "For a county of 600,000, that's a problem."

The state says its STAR system is only supposed to "augment local supplies." In this instance, local supplies from private companies are hard to get too.

RELATED: Texas conducts fewest COVID-19 tests per capita

The lack of county testing comes as Texas remains at the bottom of the list when it comes to the number of COVID-19 tests per capita. Last week, 13 Investigates reported that despite nearly 116,000 Texans being tested for the virus, the state still remains last in testing nationwide with only 3,660 tests per 1 million residents. About 94 percent of Texas' tests are done at private labs versus state testing.

Testing is ramping up at Conroe's Lone Star Family Health Center as supplies are finally coming in.

Karen Harwell, the CEO of the Health Center explained, "Prior to this week, we would request 200 (or) 250 (from our private supplier) and we would get five or 10."

This week, it is loosening up and the Health Center will expand testing to 100 per day with pre-registration, hopefully more.

This isn't just a problem for Montgomery County. 13 Investigates analyzed the level of COVID-19 testing in every Texas county, and it doesn't show good news for the Houston area.

The Houston metro has five of the 20 most populous Texas counties, but our analysis shows that none of them cracks the top 40 in testing per capita, according to state data.

13 Investigates analyzed the number of tests per capita across Texas counties. On the map below, lighter blues indicate fewer tests per 100,000 residents.
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Montgomery County has done about as many tests as Wichita Falls, which sits in a county a fifth the size of Montgomery.

When told of the findings, Judge Keough said, "That would tell me that somebody in Wichita falls apparently has got some kind of connection with somebody that gives tests."

Wichita County officials say they pre-planned and got requests in early, but state data obtained by 13 Investigates on Wednesday shows something is out of place, despite having less than a quarter the population, Wichita Falls received 170 tests from the State of Texas. Montgomery County has so far received just 64. Another 72 were shipped Wednesday.

Keough said that the state told him, priority was given to areas with more positive tests. Without testing supplies though, Keough explained it was hard to prove that.

"It's kind of a no brainer isn't it? We need tests in order to be able to test, and that way we can show where we really are in terms of the need," he said.

Expanding the analysis, Wichita County has received more tests from the state than every Houston area county except Fort Bend (Harris County receives supplies from the federal government).

The lack of a state supply line, puts the burned on every county and every clinic to get its own supplies. "You have to be very innovative," CEO Harwell said. "It's very difficult."

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