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.

Here’s what we know about testing sites in the Houston area. We’ll be updating this list as more information becomes available. 

United Memorial Medical Center has free COVID-19 testing at 510 W. Tidwell Road. Testing periods are for the rest of this week are Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Next week hours are 8 a.m. to 8p.m., Monday through Friday.

Who can access the tests? 

The testing program will begin by testing only the highest-risk individuals. Register online for a pre-screening test.

Legacy Community Health has COVID-19 testing at three of their Houston locations and one Beaumont location.

  • Legacy Fifth Ward, 3811 Lyons Ave.
  • Legacy Montrose, 1415 California St.
  • Legacy Southwest, 6441 High Star Dr.
  • Legacy Central Beaumont, 450 North 11th St., Beaumont

Who can access the tests?

Legacy has said it will only test those who screen positive for the virus, meaning:

  • Those who are experiencing symptoms of fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other respiratory conditions
  • Only if they have either traveled recently, domestic or international, or had contact with someone diagnosed with or suspected of having COVID-19.

Patients with questions should call a primary care physician or Legacy’s contact center at 832-548-5000. All testing is done on a sliding scale, and the clinics will bill insurance companies for those who are covered, Legacy said.

MD Anderson’s Diagnostic Imaging Clinic in Bellaire has been repurposed to offer COVID-19 testing to current MD Anderson patients and employees only.

Who can access the tests?

Only MD Anderson patients and employees who meet certain screening requirements, the hospital system said. “Testing is by appointment only and no walk-ins are permitted. Current MD Anderson patients who think they may need testing must call their MD Anderson clinic for further direction. MD Anderson employees must first contact Employee Health.”

My Family Doctor has one drive-thru testing facility, at 6430 Hillcroft Ave., open Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Who can access the tests?

“You should not visit our testing center unless your have fever and/or symptoms of respiratory illness (e.g., dry cough),” My Family Doctor said.

Priorities include older adults and people with chronic medical conditions, or who are otherwise in “an immunocompromised state that may put them at higher risk for poor outcomes (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, receiving immunosuppressive medications, chronic lung disease, chronic kidney disease).”

People who have come into contact with a person with a suspected or confirmed case of the illness in the last 14 days, or who have a history of travel in areas identified by the CDC as at-risk countries, are also priorities.

For the latest information on testing, including costs, head to My Family Doctor’s website. This testing site is currently cash only. You’ll need $25 cash even if you have insurance coverage. They advise all patients to bring $150 cash for the test just in case they cannot verify your insurance.

Harris County Public Health and the City of Houston are expected to open a total of four testing sites in partnership with FEMA. Mayor Turner said the first will open Friday, March 20 at Butler Stadium in Westbury. It will be free.

Who can access the tests? 

When it opens Friday, the testing site at Butler Stadium will initially be only for first responders and healthcare workers. Turner said there isn’t enough personal protective equipment to expand it to everyone yet.

But Turner said as they scale up, it will expand to high-risk groups with symptoms that have been through a screening process.

“We will provide more information on the screening process and testing process once that information is available,” according to public officials. “If you show up without being properly screened, you will NOT be tested for COVID-19, and your presence could unintentionally put others at risk, cause delays, and interrupt the healthcare professionals who are working expeditiously to open the testing sites.”

Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms 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.