Houston coronavirus testing sites remain open despite supply chain hiccups

Health officials said they could only commit to keeping the city and county testing sites open for a few days at a time as it awaits additional supplies. (Matt Dulin/Community Impact Newspaper)
Health officials said they could only commit to keeping the city and county testing sites open for a few days at a time as it awaits additional supplies. (Matt Dulin/Community Impact Newspaper)

Health officials said they could only commit to keeping the city and county testing sites open for a few days at a time as it awaits additional supplies. (Matt Dulin/Community Impact Newspaper)

Less than a week after opening three free city and county-led coronavirus drive-thru testing sites, local officials could only commit to keeping them for a few days at a time.

A weekly shipment of supplies from FEMA, including test kits and personal protective equipment, was smaller than expected when it arrived March 26, Houston Director of Emergency Medicine Dr. David Persse told reporters. As a result, the city could only confirm that its drive-thru site at Butler Stadium can stay open without disruption through the weekend.

“That shipment routine has not yet become routine, so we are waiting just like you are to find out when it is going to arrive and what exactly is going to be in it,” Persse said.

As of March 26, the end of the first week that most major test centers were open, the City of Houston had tested 1,062 patients at its site and Harris County tested 1,700 patients across its two sites, public health authorities said. These figures do not include testing going on at privately run sites. Two of the biggest include Legacy Community Health which tested 1,070 patients in its first week of testing and United Memorial Medical Center which tested 1,447 patients.

As testing capacity remains somewhat limited, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he has turned to state authorities and to soliciting bids from private providers. He said the city was recently outbid for a shipment from a private supplier.


Turner said widespread testing is important in determining the extent of the virus’s reach in the area. It currently has a $2 million bid out for supplies.

Lagging capacity has been a concern for local leaders since early on in the outbreak, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo told reporters in March. 20.

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

In the coming weeks, Persse said the city hopes to get on a weekly shipment schedule that will allow its first drive-thru site to operate at its capacity of 250 tests per day. If additional capacity becomes possible, the city will add another drive-thru site, Persee said.

In the first week of operation, numbers provided by Houston Health Departmetn show that the city site was able to meet demand for testing without turning people away.

In addition to the city and county’s free drive-thru sites, other private providers are offering testing. Find more information about testing options in the Houston area here.

Persse said anyone interested in donating medical supplies to area hospitals can contact [email protected]
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.