HARLINGEN — For weeks, many residents here have called for a site to test for the coronavirus.
Soon, they might have testing options.
On Tuesday, the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley began testing residents here.
Hours later, city commissioners entered into a six-month agreement with the city of Brownsville to help fund testing for Harlingen residents at Brownsville’s drive-thru test site at the city’s Sports Park at 1000 Sports Park Blvd.
“All of us would like to see more access to more testing,” Mayor Chris Boswell said Tuesday. “Everybody wants to see more testing availability.”
The agreement states the cities aim “to assist the public and the taxpayers in the detection and mitigation efforts for the current worldwide COVID-19 health crisis and pandemic.”
At City Hall, City Manager Dan Serna said he’s set aside $50,000 to help fund the tests.
“The Brownsville site provides us with another option,” he said. “We want several options available to us.”
As part of the agreement, the city will reimburse Brownsville for each test costing $57.37 for insured Harlingen residents and $167.37 for uninsured residents, Josh Ramirez, the city’s medical director, said.
To be tested, residents would have to display conditions such as flu-like symptoms, shortness of breath, respiratory problems and other signs, he said.
“You have to meet criteria because testing is limited,” Boswell said.
Testing would require a doctor’s referral or qualification based on completion of an on-line questionnaire, Ramirez wrote in an executive summary presented to commissioners.
“We want to give those people who want to be tested the opportunity to be tested,” he said.
Under the agreement, Brownsville would map positive Harlingen residents’ home addresses, Ramirez wrote, adding the information would remain confidential.
“The city of Brownsville’s mapping capabilities will allow decision-makers to identify hot spots and cluster formations,” he wrote.
UT-RGV test site
On Tuesday, UT-RGV launched its fourth testing site near Harlingen’s Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic.
“They received a lot of people to be tested,” Ramirez said.
By about 3:30 p.m., the new site had tested about 25 residents, stated Dimitra Trejo, communications managers with UT-RGV’s health affairs division.
On Thursday, the testing site is set to open again, Serna said.
To qualify for testing, residents are required to call the UT Health RGV Patient Communications Center at 1-833–887-4863 to be screened.
Residents who qualify for testing are set for an appointment.
For insured residents, testing costs will be billed to their insurance companies while uninsured residents will be tested free of charge.
But it’s unclear whether testing will continue at the site, Serna said.
“There’s a possibility that partnership will continue,” he said.
Outside its Brownsville site, the program also offers testing in Mercedes and Edinburg.
Meanwhile, Serna has requested Gov. Greg Abbott add the city to its list of U.S. National Guard testing sites.
Abbott has assigned 25 National Guard teams to conduct tests across Texas, he said.
Serna said the teams conduct tests free of charge.
“That’s another option we’re pursuing,” he said.
Officials are also considering entering into an agreement with a private laboratory to conduct tests.
“We’ve been talking to private laboratories about adding some capacity,” Boswell said.