Commissioners mull agreement with lab to test for COVID-19

HARLINGEN — Soon, the city’s tests for the coronavirus might target elderly residents.

Wednesday night, city commissioners will consider entering into an agreement with Clinical Pathology Laboratories to conduct COVID-19 testing.

As part of the proposed program, the city would pay the Harlingen-based lab $100 for each test, which would be offered free of charge, Josh Ramirez, the city’s public health director, said Tuesday, adding commissioners have set aside $50,000 to fund testing.

Ramirez said the number of tests conducted will depend on “the need” among the city’s elderly residents.

Officials are concerned many elderly residents can’t drive to testing sites in Harlingen and Brownsville, he said.

“There’s a huge need in the elderly population,” he said. “Our concern is they’re the most vulnerable. We want to make sure that those who are symptomatic receive the care they need.”

STEC to identify test subjects

The South Texas Emergency Care Foundation, the city’s nonprofit ambulance company, plans to identify elderly residents showing virus symptoms for tests, Ramirez said.

“They are transporting a lot of these patients to the hospital,” he said. “They’re not gravely ill but showing symptoms.”

Dr. Michael Mohun, the city’s new health authority who serves as STEC’s medical director, would determine the residents who would be tested, Ramirez said.

“Usually, they call for an ambulance,” he said, referring to elderly residents. “That’s when we’ll consult with Dr. Mohun and make the determination.”

Testing criteria

Residents must meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria to be tested, Ramirez said.

The program, he said, would test residents showing virus symptoms.

Symptoms would include 104-degree fever, cough and body aches, he said.

Testing would help officials prevent the spread of the virus.

“We want to make sure we identify the patients who are positive to provide the care they need, and we want to make sure they keep their distance from others,” Ramirez said. “The sooner we identify the patient, the sooner we control the spread of the virus.”

The lab would provide test results within 48 to 72 hours, he said.

Testing sites

So far, officials have set up two sites offering COVID-19 testing to Harlingen residents.

Late last month, the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley launched its fourth testing site at the Health Science Center on Treasure Hills Boulevard, where tests are being conducted Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Outside its Brownsville site, the program also offers testing in Mercedes and Edinburg.

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.

Brownsville testing site

Harlingen residents can also test for the COVID-19 virus at a city of Brownsville site.

Late last month, 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.

State health department testing

Earlier this month, the state health department began conducting tests across Cameron County.

On May 28, the health department, as part of a program including the Texas National Guard, will offer tests free of charge at the Harlingen Soccer Complex, 4515 E. Harrison Ave.