Fewer people taking COVID-19 tests, Harris Co. Judge says

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As more Texas business owners increase the capacity inside their establishments and more students head back to school, new data shows the number of people getting tested for COVID-19 has dropped significantly in the Houston area.

During the summer, some Houston and Harris County testing sites would reach capacity quickly, taking days or weeks to get results. Now, thousands of tests are going unused each day, but people are getting results quicker.

The lack of testing being performed is a concern to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

"We always need folks to get tested," Hidalgo explained. "That's very important. If you don't have symptoms, but you've been in contact with somebody who has COVID [or] you've been to an event that exposed you to a lot of people--please, please get tested."

Harris County testing sites have the capacity to test about 3,000 people a day. Right now, the county health department said only 500 to 600 people a day are getting tested.

Hidalgo said the start of the school year and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's latest reopening plans, which allow businesses to increase capacity to 75%, are reasons why people should consider getting tested.

ABC13 also requested Houston's testing numbers, but a health department spokesperson said there was a drop in the number of people getting tested a few weeks ago, and that number hasn't spiked up since. The spokesperson also said each week there are about two dozen testing locations, but none have closed early due to capacity.

The state of Texas is testing less as well. On Aug. 1, Texas ranked No. 38 in the U.S. in testing. As of the end of September, Texas ranks No. 44.

Lower testing is helping people learn results faster. This summer, it took days or weeks for people to get results.

Harris County Health Department said the turn-around time for receive results is now less than three days. The county's threat level for COVID-19 remains in the red.

Hidalgo said despite declining cases, positivity rates and hospitalizations, she's not comfortable lowering the meter, but the county is getting closer.

"We designed the system so that we would come out of red better than we went into it," Hidalgo said. "Why? Because if all you're doing is going back into the situation we were in before a crisis, then what we're going to have is a crisis all over again."

Please visit the Harris County Health Department's website or Houston's Emergency Operations Center website for COVID-19 testing locations.

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