Texas senator calls for more COVID-19 testing for frontline workers

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- On Friday, State Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston called for communities to make sure COVID-19 testing is taking place in neighborhoods where more residents are leaving their homes to go to work.

Miles reached out to 13 Investigates after our report found Houston's poorest and minority neighborhoods had a higher percentage of people who were commuting to work versus working from home.

"I know now that our focus is going into the communities or residential facilities for which our elderly are housed," Miles said. "But, at the same time we're doing that, we should be running a parallel program putting the emphasis for testing and resources into the communities that are on the frontline, the labor force that are on the frontline."

13 Investigates analyzed cellphone data and found minority communities also had a higher rate of COVID-19 positive cases, particularly in predominately African-American communities.

13 Investigates: Cellphone data shows one reason why minorities are hit harder by COVID-19

Our analysis used cellphone data provided by Safegraph. Every few seconds, cellphones send signals indicating where a person is located. It also can give clues to where a person has been.

Cellphones can't be tracked individually, but using anonymous day-to-day data for more than a quarter-million devices across Houston and Harris County, 13 Investigates looked for phones that are in one place all night, presumably your home, and then another location for about four or eight hours during the day. The data is an indicator of people who are still going to work either part or full-time.

We also took a look at cellphones that had several brief stops at various locations over a long period of time, indicating those could be food or other delivery workers.

INTERACTIVE: See if your neighborhood has a higher COVID-19 infection rate. The darker shades are areas with a higher COVID-19 rate. On the bottom of the map, click to see another slide showing areas with the most minorities. On mobile device? Click here for a full screen experience.

Across Harris County, the data shows about 10 percent of people still leave the house for work.

But, our analysis found cellphones in the city's lower-income and minority neighborhoods shows the percentage of people who appear to be working is consistently higher in areas with increased poverty rates and a larger percentage of nonwhite residents.

"When it comes to people of color, it is very difficult for us to work remotely from home. We are on the frontline," Mayor Sylvester Turner said last week during an ABC13 Town Hall on COVID-19 and Communities of Color. "We are the people, for example, that are in the grocery stores as employees. We are the bus drivers to transit workers. So when it comes to working remotely, for many people of color, that is not that is not an option.

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