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COVID-19 tests taken in Houston, Harris County can take 3 to 5 days to process

Public health officials say each of the four community-based testing sites -- two in Houston, two in Harris County -- can perform 250 tests each day.

HOUSTON — The 3-5 day turnaround time to process COVID-19 tests is partially due to where the tests come from and are processed, according to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

Public health officials in Houston and Harris County said COVID-19 test results can take about 3 to 5 days to process.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo said the only source of tests is from the federal government, which ships them out-of-state for processing, causing the delay.

"It’s good for us to have that data, but ideally we want it to be faster," said Judge Hidalgo. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks we can really do the amount of testing the community deserves."

"The results are expected to be reported in 3 to 5 days but we’re aware it’s taking longer for some," a Houston Health Department spokesperson wrote in an e-mail.

Judge Hidalgo said the lack of available testing is a real limitation.

She expects to get more tests in the next few weeks, but could not say specifically how many. She said she and her colleagues have been relying on hospital data to make public health decisions.

"Those show us that the rate of hospitalizations for COVID are still going up quite quickly. It’s tracing Italy. It’s tracing New York in its early stages, so we’re still very much in the thick of it," said Judge Hidalgo.

There are currently four community-based sites open to the public for testing: two in the city of Houston, and two in Harris County. People wishing to get tested must first take an online screening assessment.

Each site is capable of performing 250 tests per day, which equates to a total of 1,000 tests per day among the four locations.

Since April 1, the two Houston Health Department community-based testing sites registered 2,240 tests alone. That does not include numbers from the two Harris County Public Health community-based testing sites.

RELATED: 2nd drive-thru COVID-19 testing site opens in northwest Houston

Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp are the labs that process tests performed at city of Houston sites. The spokesperson said people can access their results by establishing online accounts for the respective lab that processed their tests.

Quest Diagnostics has performed and reported results of nearly 550,000 COVID-19 tests to providers and patients across the United States. Through 12 laboratories, Quest is now able to perform more than 35,000 COVID-19 tests a day.

Quest also says it has reduced its COVID-19 test backlog significantly, from roughly 160,000 tests on March 25 to about 80,000 as of April 6. The backlog of 80,000 tests corresponds to approximately 2-3 days of testing.

LabCorp is now able to perform about 35,000 – 40,000 tests per day and expects capacity to increase assuming supplies are available. LabCorp’s capacity is now meeting the average current daily volume of tests it is receiving at its labs. The company has performed approximately 500,000 tests since first making its COVID-19 test available on March 5th. Typically, LabCorp has been able to deliver test results to the ordering healthcare provider between 4-5 days from the date of specimen pickup, and are actively focused on reducing the time patients need to wait to be informed of their results.  

According to a Houston Health Department spokesperson, FEMA obtained a contractor who calls people tested for COVID-19 at community-based testing sites. 

People who were tested at a community-based testing site will receive a call from 1-833-447-0001. It is important for people to answer the call because the information cannot be left in a voicemail.

"Local health departments do not provide results from community-based testing sites. However, through contact investigations, people who tests positive for COVID-19 are contacted by their local health department," the Houston Health Dept. spokesperson wrote.

In a Sunday news conference, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner indicated that several federal workers at a Houston testing site would be deployed to another state by April 10 and Houston would have to pick up the slack to replace these workers in order to continue the local testing.

Houston's public health authority, Dr. David Persse, sent a letter to the Deputy Surgeon General, asking them to continue staffing the site as Houston and Harris County are expected to reach their peak in COVID-19 cases in less than two weeks.

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In Dr. Persse's letter, he expected the peak in the area would come in roughly the next two weeks.

Again, people wishing to get tested must first take an online screening assessment.

Once you have gone through the online screening process and deemed "at-risk" you will receive a unique code and a phone number to call. 

Then, at-risk people should call the given number and complete phone consultation. If deemed "at-risk" you will be given another unique code and information of where to get your first test. 

Then, at-risk people should proceed to the testing facility at your scheduled time. Be sure to bring with you any photo ID and other information as requested by your nurse screener. Walk-ins will not be seen.