HOUSTON — Health care workers and first responders are literally risking their life as they work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first four-lane drive thru COVID-19 testing site opened to the those working on the front lines of the pandemic opened in an undisclosed location in Houston Thursday morning.
Dozens of people had their nose swabbed by doctors and nurses who work in the Texas Medical Center. All major hospitals devoted staff to coordinate and conduct the testing.
In order to get the test, a first responder or health care worker must first speak to a nurse on the phone. If a nurse determines that the person's symptoms are in line with COVID-19 and there's a chance the person was exposed to the highly-contagious virus, then the person is sent to the undisclosed for testing. But, before their nose is swabbed, the person must again be evaluated by doctors and nurses. If that health care worker deems a test necessary, the person continues to drive through for testing.
"Since this started, we’ve had about 150 firefighters that have reported contact with suspected coronavirus cases," said Houston Fire Department Chief Samuel Pena. "And what we’re doing is we’re taking a very, very conservative approach- following CDC guidelines. And what we do is assign an infection control nurse to monitor these individuals."
Pena says those nurses have deemed all 150 firefighters “low risk,” which means that the firefighter should monitor themselves for symptoms and continue to check in with the nurse.
"I can’t say enough of how proud I am of the incredible work they’re doing," said Pena of first responders. "Paramedics, police officers, health care workers that really are on the front line of this crisis. They’re doing an outstanding job. Our commitment here is, we’re working seven days a week to make sure we’re providing them with the tools and equipment that they need to safely do their job and protect this community."
Chief Pena says it's imperative people call 911 only if they have a health care or public safety emergency. "If they do call 911, to let us know if anybody in the home is having flu-like symptoms, that will better prepare our firefighters to protect themselves," he said.
He encourages everyone to follow good hand hygiene and social distancing just like the CDC and local health departments advise.
"And stay home as much as you can. We are going to get through this together. But together, we need to make a consorted effort that we’re taking care of ourselves, because in the end we’ll be taking care of our families and our community," said Pena. "We’re going to get through this. We’re Houston Strong, right? And we’re going to get through this. But we need to have a consorted effort to ensure that we’re going the right thing for ourselves, for our families and for our community."