HARLINGEN — It’s one test you really hope you’ll pass.

As confirmed coronavirus cases continue trending upward here in the Rio Grande Valley, two new drive-thru testing sites have been established on the Edinburg and Brownsville campuses of UTRGV.

The tests are free to UTRGV students, staff and the general public for individuals with a fever over 100.4 degrees and COVID-19 respiratory symptoms. All prospective patients must first undergo a telephone interview to confirm they have the right symptoms of the virus.

“A cough or shortness of breath,” said Dr. John H. Krouse, dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine. “Generally anyone who has a fever and respiratory symptoms, these are the people we would consider appropriate candidates.

“We’re not testing people without any symptoms,” Krouse added. “The CDC’s guidelines at this point say test people who are symptomatic so we are following their guidelines.”

The tests are being administered by UTRGV Health, the clinical practice of the UTRGV School of Medicine. Tests are only available to persons 18 years of age or older, and a telephone interview is required first. People who believe they are showing COVID-19 symptoms and want to be tested can call 1-833-UTRGVMD (1-833-887-4863) to begin the process.

If selected, patients have the choice of using the test drive-thrus at either the Edinburg or Brownsville UTRGV campuses.

“They’ll be given an actual time to come in. When they come to that site they will need to show identification to verify who they are,” Krouse said. “They will then drive into that area, they’ll drive up to the area where the testing is done, and they will have that testing done in their car.

“They will not need to get out of their car to go into any kind of structure,” he added. “A swab is taken of the nose, that swab is then processed in our laboratory. We would expect turnaround time to be the next day for results. And then they drive away, and that is basically it.”

UTRGV is assessing no fee for the testing, a generous offer to the community which Krouse says is made possible because the medical school has managed to create the tests, marshal the proper medical equipment and is doing the lab work in-house.

“We have done thesetests and created the test internally at UTRGV, we’re creating our own media, our own devices that we have in our biology lab to do this, so we are not charging the patient at all for any of the cost of the testing,” Krouse said.

Testing began Monday and so far the sites are averaging about 50 people per day, although the dean anticipates those numbers will rise as the coronavirus pandemic continues to play out.

“I think, unfortunately, we are more at the start of this event than late in the event, so I do think we’re going to see a higher rate of symptomatic people in the next few weeks,” Krouse said.

Restrictions on unnecessary travel and the shelter-at-home orders issued by county judges here in the Valley are critical in blunting the upward trajectory of new COVID-19 cases.

The dean says those orders are going to be crucial to managing the coronavirus outbreak no matter how inconvenient some people may find them.

“The only way we’re going to get through this and not overwhelm the system is by strictly following those stay-at-home orders,” Krouse said. “We may need to dothat for a few months and it may be uncomfortable for us.

“But if we don’t, there are going to be serious problems and overuse of hospitals and we don’t want to get there.”

UTRGV testing sites

Edinburg campus

Brownsville campus

Other testing sites

Brownsville Sports Park

Rio Grande City on South Texas College campus

Edinburg at the First Family Medical Center

How it happens

– To qualify for testing at the UTRGV sites, a patient must be over the age of 18, have a fever higher than 100.4 degrees and have respiratory symptoms such as a cough.

– A phone interview is mandatory to discuss symptoms first.

– Contact the UT Health RGV Patient Communications Center at 1-833-UTRGVMD (1-833-887-4863)

– An appointment for testing then will be made with qualifying patients at the campus of the patient’s choice.

– Patients arriving for testing will not leave their vehicle and a nose swab will be taken.

– There is no charge for testing and results should be available the next day.