Testing for COVID-19 is becoming more widely available in the Rio Grande Valley. Those without primary care doctors have access to a series of free, public testing events this week coordinated by the State of Texas in collaboration with Cameron County.
As cases continue to rise, testing is still limited and in some cases difficult to access despite being free and open to the public. On Tuesday, soldiers operating the line at the state-organized testing site in La Feria told residents the wait time was between three to four hours.
Men and women just learning of the delay walked back to their vehicles, unable to spend half a work day at the testing site. By noon, the site had reached its capacity of just over 300 tests available to county residents.
Local officials explained that difficulty getting tested is likely influenced by the steady growth of positive cases in combination with the fact that the testing sites coordinated by the state are open to everyone, not only by appointment.
As Cameron County Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Hushen explained, the state-funded testing has increased capacity, placing extra burden on other local sites now contracted by the state, like those operated by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
County residents who arrive at state-operated testing locations are screened on-site for symptoms, according to information on the event provided by Cameron County Public Health. The latest dates are available on the health department’s Facebook page.
Further testing events are scheduled through June 21. At the San Benito Fair Grounds, testing will be held Wednesday June 17 to Friday June 19 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Residents are required to bring identification, though the information posted does not specify that the ID has to be a driver’s license.
In La Feria, testing will be held from Saturday, June 20 to Sunday, June 21 at the La Feria Dome from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Again, coordinators ask that residents bring ID.
Residents unsure how to get screened can call the Cameron County COVID-19 Helpline at (956) 247-3650.
Testing at UTRGV is ongoing across the Valley. Anyone interested must visit www.utrgvhealth.org and complete a questionnaire. If UTRGV determines a test is needed, staff will reach out within 24 hours.
The medical center offers a phone line to schedule appointments at 1 (833) 887-3650. On Monday and Tuesday, several calls made to the hotline were placed immediately on hold by the operating system.
Residents unable to reach the line can also email email@example.com.
The third public testing option available in Cameron County is through the City of Brownsville’s drive-thru testing site. Those who suspect they’re infected can visit btxcares.com and fill out the pre-screening questionnaire.
Art Rodriguez, public health director for the City of Brownsville, urged residents to wear masks in public. He said those who suspect they’re infected but can’t access testing should quarantine at home for a period of 10 to 14 days, as testing can still be inaccurate.
“Even if they took a test and the test was negative — lot of employers and even doctors are giving the wrong advice,” he said.
Coronavirus is still dangerous and can spread via surface and through the air, he explained, adding that up to 80 percent of people with COVID are asymptomatic.
Rodriguez said that local businesses also play a role in controlling the spread. He urged owners and managers to implement a transparent plan of action regarding how to inform employees and the public when someone tests positive, as well as how to disinfect stores.
Businesses like grocery stores do have the authority to require customers to wear masks.
“You know how businesses have no shirt, no shoes, no service policies? They absolutely should have a policy for masks,” Rodriguez said.
“The measures that are coming out of Austin do not take away the risk that still exists out there. Every time it opens up people are at more risk because there’s more population out and about, and it brings around a compelling reason why we should all be wearing a mask and social distancing even more.”