A spike in the demand for free COVID-19 tests ahead of the New Year as case numbers rise

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The Houston Health Department plans to increase the number of tests available at its affiliated COVID-19 mega testing location at Minute Maid Park and open two more mega sites next week, in order to meet the increased need for COVID-19 testing.

According to the Houston Health Department, every day this week at least one of its COVID-19 testing sites has reached capacity as sites across the region are seeing a spike in the demand for free COVID-19 tests.

"We recognize that the demand is here right now," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said. "We anticipate the demand will be greater next week as people prepare to go back to school. People coming back from the holiday break. People are celebrating over this weekend and so we want to do as much as we can to ramp up the availability of testing."

On Thursday, at the mega COVID-19 testing site at Minute Maid Park, 1,018 tests were administered but more than 2,600 appointments were scheduled. Mayor Turner said there was a glitch in the system that schedules the appointments and it has since been corrected.

"At full capacity the health department's network of affiliated sites can provide more than 30,000 daily tests now," Turner said, "and the goal is to be able to provide 35,000 (tests) by the end of next week."

The Houston Health Department also plans to open two more mega testing sites next week to help meet the increasing demand.

Just over a week ago, a local gym, Muscleheadz Houston, saw the need for more access to free COVID-19 tests.

"A lot of the COVID sites are real busy and we weren't so busy," said co-owner and founder Cliff Jackson. "Everything is about convenience and to have the convenience of having it right here in the Third Ward. If you say the Muscleheadz building or the old Wolf's Pawn Shop and everybody knows where it is. We've had people walk up, I've had a couple Uber here. We had an idea of having people, being able to drive right up. Now you don't even have to get out of your car. You can get tested right here."

The gym partnered up with the locally owned MeGa LLC, which provides free COVID-19 tests on site. At the gym this week alone, at least 200 tests have been administered daily.

Jermecka Darling, co-owner of MeGa LLC, said the gym's members get tested weekly and its lab provides test results within 72 hours or less.

"I've had very close family members and friends die from COVID," Darling said. "I I just wanted to start something where we're giving back to the community and making people aware of their status so we can try to decrease that number of people who are getting really sick and the people who are passing away."

The testing at Muscleheadz Houston will start again on Monday, Jan. 3 and people can call ahead at 832-895-9669 to get a test in the drive-up section, in front of the building.

"Have your fun, but know your status," Darling said, "because knowing your status is the best thing you can do to help protect you and your loved ones."

City leaders including the City of Houston's Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Persse urging people to get their COVID-19 booster and to get tested regularly to help slow the spread of COVID-19 cases.

"A lot of these folks who are becoming infected and only minimally ill we believe that has a lot to do with the number of folks in the community that has some level of immunity from previous vaccination and that's why they are not getting hospitalized," Dr. Persse said. "Let's also remember that getting hospitalized costs thousands of dollars. The vaccine like the testing are free."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner warning the community about some pop up testing sites may not be credible operations, especially those that are asking for payment.

Turner explained the criteria its partners must meet in order to open up a Houston Health Department testing site.

"Every site, every lab has to be vetted before we sign off," Turner said. "If it's legit, if they can provide the services and they are credible then we're more than happy. And then if you are willing to do it and you are offering free testing services, that's also an added component but if you are trying to charge or asking people for their credit card, asking for cash that's a no, no for us. Okay, so anybody that we're partnering with will have to adhere to our guidelines our standards and then it's a go."

The Houston Health Department affiliated sites do not require appointments, but appointments are recommended and available to book online or call 832-393-4220.
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