Doctors urge testing, fear complacency as Texas lags nation

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Texas launched a website with more than 300 locations where residents can get COVID-19 tests.

But, as more mobile testing units are set up to serve rural and other in-need communities, Texas is still not meeting the goals it set for itself when it comes to how many tests are conducted daily.

"Is this complacency? Is this really about people in the community saying, 'Hey, I don't need to get tested. I don't want to get tested. I don't even think testing is important.' We hope the answer is 'no,' but the concern is that, that may be in play," Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health, told 13 Investigates' Ted Oberg.

As of Friday afternoon, Texas conducted nearly 477,200 COVID-19 tests over the last two months, with about 36,600 positive cases reported, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Within the last week, the state increased the number of residents tested, but even then the state still remains near the bottom of a nationwide list of testing per capita.

As of Friday, Texas was conducting 15,697 tests per one million residents, according to a 13 Investigates analysis of data from the COVID Tracking Project. That puts the state in 46th place nationwide when compared to testing per capita in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Texas was ranked 48th last week, and dead last the week before that.

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Harris County has conducted 64,530 tests for the virus, as of Thursday, according to state data. That makes up nearly 15 percent of Texas' overall tests.

The county set up two test sites, in Katy and Baytown, in addition to mobile testing throughout the community.

Shah said the county is doing well when it comes to accessibility of tests. But even with a capacity to perform 500 tests per site, Shah said they're not seeing that many people come out to take them.

"The question is why," Shah said.

One reason could be due to more testing locations overall, he said. With testing spread out over a larger area of the community, individual sites may not be hitting their max.

"Testing remains the cornerstone of what we're doing throughout all of our strategies throughout the country," Shah said. "We've gotten better than where we have been, but we're not where we need to be. That said, we need to rely on our community to get tested and I think that's the key message."

When it comes to who should get tested, Shah said the priority is people with symptoms and first responders. But, testing capabilities are at a point where certain people without symptoms can get tested, such as asymptomatic essential employees working at grocery stores or delivery jobs.

"If you're a community member, you have not gotten tested, you want to get tested, you feel like you should be tested, the key message is get tested," Shah said.

Testing is, after all, the "foundation" for reopening communities, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said earlier this week.

In his Report to Open Texas released April 27, Abbott said the goal is to perform 30,000 tests daily. The state has only gotten close to that goal once since then.

RELATED: Texas 'not quite there yet' on meeting COVID-19 testing goals

Nationwide, the White House set a goal to test nearly 600,000 Texans every month - a number Texas hasn't reached in its two months of testing.

"The amount of testing that takes place in the state of Texas continues to ramp up, we're not quite there yet," Abbott said during a news conference on Tuesday.

As business continue opening, Shah reminds residents that just because certain locations are open, that doesn't mean they need to reintegrate into the community quite yet.

"If you're older, if you're the above the age of 65 or you've got chronic health conditions, we certainly don't want people to just rush out to stores and places because they think, 'oh it's summer and it's time and I'm ready to get out of the house,'" Shah said. "Nobody is saying stay at home. We're saying, 'look, you might want to consider staying at home.'"

For information on how to get a COVID-19 test in Harris County go to ReadyHarris.com or call 832-927-7575 to schedule an appointment. Residents can also sign up by clicking here.

City of Houston residents interested in a COVID-19 test can call 832-393-4220 or go to HoustonHealth.org or HoustonEmergency.org.

Search the state's map below to find COVID-19 public and drive-thru testing locations On mobile device? Click here for a full screen experience.
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