Harris County will form a new "testing strike team" to provide coronavirus tests to high-risk communities such as nursing homes, County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced in an April 27 press conference.

The strike team—which will be composed of epidemiologists, public health experts, testing staff, social workers and data experts—will be deployed April 28, Hidalgo said. It will start by testing one nursing home per day but is expected to eventually expand to other high-risk communities, such as homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters, she said.

"We’re going to expand as resources allow," Hidalgo said. "The goal is, of course, to save lives, but [also] to go on the offense. The more we are able to do this, the better we’ll be able to choke off the virus, stop it in its tracks and move forward."

Umair Shah, executive director of the Harris County Public Health Department, said the county has confirmed about 50 cases in nursing homes so far. More than 10,000 coronavirus deaths across the U.S. have some connection to a nursing home or a long-term care facility, he said.

New testing sites in Harris County, city of Houston

Harris County is also expanding the number of mobile testing sites from two to four, doubling mobile testing capacity, Hidalgo said at the April 27 press conference. She did not announce where those new sites will be initially deployed and said that she will discuss possible locations with county commissioners and staff.

A map showing the schedules of each mobile testing site will be posted to www.readyharris.org later this week, she said.

The implementation of more mobile testing sites is crucial for contact tracing, Hidalgo said, referring to the process of testing people who have recently come into contact with a known case.

"We’re a big county, and we need to make it easier for folks to be able to get tested," Hidalgo said. "We're working with folks who do not have transportation to take tests to their homes."

Shah said the county has tested more than 15,000 people so far. Anyone seeking to arrange a test in Harris County still needs to go through a screening process, but Shah said that testing capacity is no longer an issue. Lines at testing sites in Baytown and Katy have been short in recent days, and wait times have been around 20-30 minutes, he said.

"We’re still prioritizing those with symptoms, but if you feel that you’ve been out and about and you’ve been potentially exposed, we can handle you for testing," Shah said. "We don’t want that to be a barrier."

Officials with the city of Houston also announced that a new free drive-thru testing site in Houston’s East End opened April 27. The site is located at Barnett Stadium, 6800 Fairway Drive, Houston.

The majority-Hispanic neighborhood faces a greater risk of infection and the most serious consequences of the illness because of the prevalence of underlying conditions and uninsured residents, Houston Health Department Director Stephen Williams said. United Memorial Medical Center runs the free site and does not require insurance or preregistration.
Mayor Sylvester Turner said that while the city and other local officials coordinated with UMMC to determine where the site would open, it has not yet provided any funds to it. He said he committed to provide any additional funds needed to operate the site using some of the $404 million in federal aid the city received from the Federal Coronavirus Economic Relief Plan.

Houston also announced a new mobile testing clinic with the capacity to perform 100 tests per day. No pre-registration is required and those seeking testing do not need a car. It will rotate through Kashmere Gardens, Southwest Houston and the Third Ward on the following dates.

April 28-May 2

Kashmere Multi-Service Center, 4802 Lockwood Drive, Houston

May 5-9

Hiram Clarke Multi-Service Center, 3810 Fuqua Street, Houston

May 12-16

Third Ward Multi-Service Center, 3611 Ennis Street, Houston

More information on testing sites in the city of Houston can be found here.