The first free testing site for COVID-19 is now opene in northwest Houston and has the capability to test 2,000 people.  Testing runs 8 a.m. to 8p.m., Monday through Friday. The testing program will begin by testing only the highest-risk individuals.

The site at 510 W. Tidwell Rd is the result of a measure called the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act.”  United Memorial Medical Center is eating the cost of the test under the presumption that the federal government will pay them back later.

Health professionals and public officials are facing mounting pressure to test communities for COVID-19, as the number of confirmed cases increases and the virus spreads throughout communities across the country.

Although health providers across the country are dealing with a shortage of tests, in part due to a lack of testing swabs, Texas has lagged behind much of the rest of the country when it comes to prevention and containment, according to a recent analysis from WalletHub.

Because of that shortage, people exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms may be refused testing, meaning there are likely more people in the community who have the disease than is reflected in the numbers, according to health officials.

The lack of testing is in part why self-quarantine and social distancing are critical tools to prevent the spread of disease, according to Dr. Dona Murphey, a neurologist and community organizer in Houston.

“Testing at this point is for a disease that has no vaccine and has no cure,” said Murphey, who started a petition to Governor Greg Abbott to include health professionals in the government response to the crisis. “The purpose it serves for the general public is really to illustrate to them that it’s actually a real problem, that this thing is really widespread.”

Murphey said measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should be a top priority for everyone, especially people exhibiting symptoms, and that healthcare workers should be favored for testing, since they are in direct contact with vulnerable patients on a daily basis and are more likely to be exposed to the virus.

Anyone with COVID-19 systems should contact a doctor, and Harris County residents without access to health care can call the county’s triage line at 713-634-1110 any day from 9am-7pm with questions.