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Houston ramps up COVID testing, new sites opening

City leaders are striving to provide 35,000 daily COVID-19 tests as the positivity rate has jumped north of 17 percent.

HOUSTON — The Houston Health Department and Curative are expanding access to free COVID-19 testing with the opening of a new drive-thru mega site this week.

The site is at Delmar Stadium, 2020 Mangum Road, and opens Dec. 29, at 9 a.m. and will operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.  It's expected to administer around 1,000 tests per day.

Appointments are required at Curative.com or by calling 1-888-702-9042. The site will be closed Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.   

Credit: Curitive.com
This screen grab was taken Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. showing no more appointments available on Wednesday.

City leaders said another test site at Butler Stadium will open next week and is expected to provide 1,000 daily tests.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Wednesday that Houston’s latest average COVID-19 positivity rate, or the number of tests with positive results, is currently at 17.3 percent.

That’s up from 7.8 percent the previous week.

“It has slowed things down,” said Turner, in response to a question from KHOU about the impact on city services during a press conference Wednesday.

He also said the Solid Waste Department switched to a holiday schedule because of personnel issues caused in part by COVID-19.

Wednesday marked Mayor Turner’s first day back after testing positive for COVID.

Houston health officials said, at full capacity, the department’s network of Curative, United Memorial Medical Center, and multi-service center sites can provide approximately 27,000 daily tests. The goal is to increase that number to at least 35,000 daily tests by the end of next week.

You can visit HoustonHealth.org or call 832-393-4220 to find nearby free health department-affiliated testing sites and schedules. 

During Wednesday's press conference touting the Delmar Stadium testing site opening, Houston ISD Superintendent Millard House said the district would continue its face-covering mandate for staff and students when they returned to classrooms for the spring semester.

On Thursday, DAVACO will open mega testing site at Minute Maid Park LOT C at 499 St Emanuel Street. That location will have 400 daily test capability. 

Next week, Express COVID testing will take place at Dave and Busters at 6010 Richmond Ave. That location will have 1,000 daily test capability.

MORE INFO: Where to get a free COVID-19 test in the Houston area

The CDC recommends people who have symptoms and most people who had close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period) with someone with confirmed COVID-19 be tested.

“It’s a good idea to get tested if you recently participated in a gathering with people who do not live in your home,” said Houston Health Authority Dr. David Persse. “This is especially true if it was an indoor gathering with people who were not wearing masks.”

Getting tested or vaccinated at health department-affiliated sites is free, and does not require proof of residency, citizenship, or insurance.

609 city employees are now COVID-positive, which includes 286 municipal employees, 252 police officers, and 71 firefighters.

“With the advice and consent of Dr. Persse, we have modified the executive order to now be in line with the CDC, which means instead of standing down like 10 days, it will be 5 days,” said Turner. “People still…must wear their mask for the duration of that time.”

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña says he’s using overtime and a CDC emergency provision to keep personnel on the job.

“If they’ve tested positive, no, they will stay off,” said Chief Peña. “If they’ve been exposed, unless they’re symptomatic, they are returning to work.”

Chief Peña says more exposure means more calls for service and more delays at the emergency room.

“Our EMTs have the option if the patient is stable and they’ve been waiting for 30 minutes or more, that they can leave the patient in the triage room,” said Chief Peña. “That’s to ensure that we are ready to service the next call.”

Houston Health Department officials said Wednesday that wastewater testing shows virus levels at 546 percent above baseline levels set in July 2020 during an early surge.

That latest figure is up from 142 percent above baseline the previous week.

The city’s public health authority says it’s a good predictor of what we’ll see in the hospitals in two weeks.

“Most people seem to be tolerating it pretty well, but some people are not,” said  Persse.

Persse pointed out that small percentage of a big number is still a very large number.

“Heart attacks are still going to occur, car accidents are still going to occur, moms are gonna still have babies, all those things of life are gonna continue to occur,” said Persse. “We need our hospitals to be able to manage the load.”

Persse is urging people to get vaccinated and boosted.

City leaders are also asking people with mild symptoms or exposure to avoid the ER for testing and instead seek out the city’s free testing sites or another location.

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