By Carlos Morales and Diana Nguyen
Teams of clinicians alongside Texas National Guard troops will soon set up coronavirus testing sites in West Texas, according to local officials who say they were notified late Tuesday.
The effort is part of a larger deployment of 1,200 troops to rural stretches of Texas that Gov. Greg Abbott announced earlier this week while unveiling plans to gradually restart the state’s economy. In total, Abbott said 25 teams would be dispatched to areas identified by the Texas Department of State Health Services. The state has said each site will have the capacity to test 150 people per day, but at least in Marfa, local officials expect roughly 60 tests will be administered at no cost to residents.
Tri-county residents are able to get tested even if they don’t reside in the cities where the testing locations are.
Friday April 24th — 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.
- Ft. Hancock: Benito Martinez Elementary, 460 Knox Ave., Fort Hancock, TX 79839
- Van Horn: City Hall/Convention Center, 1801 W. Broadway St., Van Horn, Texas 79855
Saturday April 25 —9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Marfa: Marfa Visitor Center, 302 South Highland Avenue, Marfa, Texas 79843
- Alpine: North Brewster County Emergency Response Center, 102 S. 2nd Street, Alpine, TX 79830
Sunday April 26th —9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
- Presidio: City of Presidio EMS and Fire Station, 100 E. FM 170, Presidio, Texas 79845
- Terlingua: South Brewster County Emergency Response Center, 23250, FM 170, Terlingua, TX 79852
The call center number for screening and testing appointments is (512) 883-2400.
In order to make an appointment, residents will need to call the hotline up to 48 hours before their city’s testing date. When they call, individuals will be screened over the phone, according to the head of the Big Bend’s COVID-19 task force Dr. Ekta Escovar. An individual will have to exhibit symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, aches, sore throat or loss of taste or smell for an appointment to be scheduled.
The teams Gov. Abbott is dispatching throughout the state will administer genetic PCR tests that can only detect whether someone is currently infected with the coronavirus, and will not detect the disease in patients who have already recovered, according to Dr. Escovar, who updated Brewster County Commissioners meeting Wednesday. Health officials expect to see test results between two to five days.
Dr. Escovar urged residents to not fabricate symptoms, because the incoming test kits are limited. “I need the community to remember the point of this testing,” said Escovar. “The point is we want to find the cases. And so if you’re making up symptoms, then you essentially wasted a test.”
Testing for the coronavirus in West Texas has been critically low, with local health officials saving what few resources are available for the most severe cases. While there haven’t been confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the tri-county area, health authorities have identified presumptive cases — patients who likely have the coronavirus, but are exhibiting milder symptoms and don’t meet the local threshold for testing.
As of Wednesday morning, there have been 40 COVID-19 tests administered in the region with no positive results and none currently pending. Dr. Escovar says the facilities in the region overall have slowed down coronavirus testing since patients are not meeting the local threshold for testing.
“If we don’t have anybody coming in with any respiratory illness symptoms, then there’s nobody to test,” says Escovar. “We haven’t really seen any people coming in with [symptoms] suspicious of COVID.”
While the mobile sites will bring needed testing to the region, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara says it’s important for residents to continue to take precautionary measures.
“We don’t want anyone to have a false sense of security because they’ve been tested,” Guevara said.
For the last several weeks, local health authorities have said Texas is expected to reach its peak for coronavirus cases at the end of April. But for rural Texas, that peak may not come until weeks after, when metropolitan areas in the state begin to loosen their restrictions.