A new drive-through COVID-19 testing facility opened in Houston on Thursday, but three others can’t open yet because of a lack of resources, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Thursday.
"We’ve been approved for four sites in Harris County, two in Houston and two in Harris County," Turner said. "But based on the availability of resources, we are only looking at [opening one] and that would be limited. As additional resources come in, then we will ramp up."
Turner said the city and county lack enough personal protection equipment, special swabs, and "the ability not just to test, but to analyze and get the results, all of those things are limited."
The free drive-through testing facility is operated by United Memorial Medical Center on Houston's north side. Even before it opened, local media reported lines of cars waiting. A spokesperson for the mayor said in a tweet that only people showing symptoms or who are over 65 years old will be tested, and first responders and health care workers will have priority.
“The capacity is the key question, but the good news is that at United [Memorial Medical Center] they are starting and the city and the county will come behind them,” Turner said.
Across Texas, a lack of tests has slowed testing for the new coronavirus and caused doctors and health officials to approve tests for a limited number of people. Gov. Greg Abbott has promised that testing will quickly ramp up this week, and in recent days both the number of tests and the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has steadily increased.
Hospitals have also reported a dwindling supply of personal protective equipment, used to protect health care workers from infection. On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, said the U.S. has relied too heavily on China for its supply of such equipment — China has curtailed shipments while dealing with its own COVID-19 outbreak.
"I think that's going to be one of the lessons learned, is we need a manufacture of this type of equipment in the United States," McCaul said, adding that "we're just ramping up the production" in the U.S. now.
Dr. Clive Fields, chief medical officer of Village Medical in Houston, said that gauging risk levels, using telemedicine and focusing on primary care can help during this growing health emergency in which health care resources are strained.
Village Medical will soon have a 90% telehealth practice and has trained dozens of physicians in how to treat patients in a quickly-changing environment for family doctors, who are often the first people contacted by ill patients, he said.
Fields said primary care providers play a key role in reducing the strain on emergency rooms and lowering the need for more masks and other personal protective equipment.
Fields said drive-through testing sites like the one Houston opened Thursday can reduce the need for protective equipment because one set can be used for multiple patients.
“We clearly need access to testing and we need it to be done at a mass scale,” Fields said. “And we needed to be done in a way that actually decreases our need for ... personal protective equipment.”
Abby Livingston contributed to this story.