UPDATE: Houston-area drive-thru coronavirus testing sites begin to open, see high demand

A free drive-thru testing site at United Memorial Medical Center in north Houston saw long lines the day it opened March 19. (Courtesy United Memorial Medical Center).
A free drive-thru testing site at United Memorial Medical Center in north Houston saw long lines the day it opened March 19. (Courtesy United Memorial Medical Center).

A free drive-thru testing site at United Memorial Medical Center in north Houston saw long lines the day it opened March 19. (Courtesy United Memorial Medical Center).

Update 10:35 a.m., March 23

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced that Harris County opened two county-run drive-thru coronavirus testing sites March 23, in addition to the city-led site that opened March 20. All three free, public sites are now open to any member of the general public experiencing symptoms.

Hidalgo said anyone in the region, including those who live outside of Harris County, may access the sites. The two locations were not made public and those who want to receive testing must fill out a screening survey online or over the phone to get directed to a testing site.

Eash county testing site currently has the capacity to test 250 people per day but may receive additional capacity from the federal government when possible, Hidalgo said.

"We do expect there to be a waiting list," she said. "I want to set that expectation. There is a triage process going on behind the scenes based on people’s answers."

The county assessment phone number is 832-927-7575 and the screening survey can be accessed at www.checkforcorona.com.

In the coming days, the city and county will integrate screening processes to help connect residents to the best available testing site, Hidalgo said.

Common symptoms include cough, fever and shortness of breath.

Update 2 p.m., March 20

The city's coronavirus testing site is up and running at Butler Stadium and will begin allowing seniors age 65 and older with symptoms to be tested for the virus on Saturday, March 21.

After Saturday, the testing site will be open to anyone showing symptoms, officials said.

The Butler site has four intake lanes, one for each of the four participating hospital systems, which are each responsible for processing tests and communicating back to patients their results, said David Persse, the city's director of emergency medical services.

That said, a doctor's referral is still needed to go to a testing site.

"I want to emphasize, we do not want people to go to the actual site unless they have been authorized to go to that site for testing," said Umair Shah, Harris County health director. "This is not a walk-in site."

Update 5:29 p.m., March 19

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced at a press conference that one coronavirus testing site will open March 20 at Butler Stadium, located at 13755 S. Main St., Houston.

This site will prioritize servicing first responders and health care workers, he said. As additional supplies come in, the site will test others, and the city and Harris County will open an additional three sites later on.

“We do not have enough personal protection equipment—swabs and other equipment—to test everyone, so the focus will tomorrow would be on first responders and health care workers.” he said. “The public has been patient, and I want to thank you for your patience.”

Testing is free, and the sites are only for high-risk groups, he said. Patients must go through a screening process, Turner said.

“And then, as we scale up over the next week or two, we will be able to do more,” he said.

Updated 3:40 p.m., March 19

As more coronavirus testing kits become available, drive-thru test sites are beginning to pop up in the Houston area.

Additional drive-thru sites will be provided through Harris County and the city of Houston, but the facilities, which will offer free tests, are not yet fully operational, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said March 19. City and county officials are waiting to gather enough supplies to administer tests effectively, she said.

Many of those seeking care are met with long lines and limited windows of opportunity to receive the test. A private drive-thru site offering paid tests, My Family Doctor on Hillcroft Avenue in Houston, reported high demand and closed to new patients midday March 19 rather than its posted closing time of 4 p.m., the website showed.

“I don't want to create false hope that we are ready right now to have a radical increase in testing," Hidalgo said. "We are unfortunately not.”

Some non-drive-thru testing is available at clinics, urgent care centers, freestanding emergency rooms and hospitals. However, those with non-life-threatening symptoms who are seeking testing should call primary care physicians for a consultation first, Harris County Public Health officials recommend. Health care workers can help connect patients to drive-thru and non-drive-thru testing providers.

Residents without a primary care physician can call Harris County Health’s novel coronavirus hotline.

If approved for a test, test administrators will prepare proper protective measures. Arriving at any non-drive-thru testing facility without prior approval is strongly discouraged, as it leaves medical professionals and others seeking care vulnerable to contracting the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers guidelines for health care providers for prioritizing who can receive testing. They include those presenting symptoms such as coughing and difficulty breathing as well as older adults and those with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems. Those with close, recent contact with someone who tested positive also receive priority, the guidelines state.

Here is a running list of drive-thru sites and requirements for testing. All three sites follow CDC guidelines for prioritizing testing.

United Memorial Medical Center

United Memorial Medical Center is offering free drive-thru testing at its North Houston location 501 Tidwell Drive, Houston. The center offered prescreening online for its drive-thru site but switched to in-person screening only as of March 19.

Legacy Community Health

Legacy Community Health offers free and sliding-scale tests at three locations.

Legacy Fifth Ward, 3811 Lyons Ave., Houston

Legacy Montrose, 1415 California St., Houston

Legacy Southwest, 6441 High Star Drive, Houston

My Family Doctor

My Family Doctor offers drive-thru testing at 6430 Hillcroft Ave., Houston. For patients without insurance coverage, tests are $150 and must be paid in cash.

Pending: Katy ISD’s Legacy Stadium will serve as a drive-thru testing site operated by Harris County Health. It is not yet operational, and patients are currently prohibited from accessing the site.
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.