Extreme heat impacts COVID-19 testing sites, causes some to close early

HOUSTON – Healthcare workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic are also battling Mother Nature. They’re dealing with high temperatures while providing critical tests to our community.

“The blacktop all around us is like a giant mirror reflecting the sun right back at us so we are getting hit pretty hard. It is just super hot our here and these people are working right through it,” said Jamal Chaw, Operational Manager at the Harris County Bear Creek Park testing site.

Sydney Marshall has been tested for coronavirus and he’s concerned about healthcare workers working in temperatures that feel like 110 degrees.

“I mean, I am thankful for them being out there serving Houston, I really appreciate it,” said Marshall.

Porfirio Villarreal, public information officer with Houston Health, acknowledges this heatwave is an issue.

“It’s tough to be out there in the heat working, so we appreciate them doing not only this sacrifice but being there throughout,” said Villareal.

At each of the Houston Health Department testing sites, the workers are being given ice-vests to wear underneath all of their personal protective equipment.

These are vests that are dipped into ice water and capture the cold.

Then healthcare workers wring them out and put them on to stay cool under all of their protective gear.

In response to the heat, the Houston Health Department moved its start time for testing from 10 a.m. to 8 a.m. more than eight weeks ago, as soon as the temperatures started ticking up.

“That way our staff can work during the coolest part of the morning, so when the heat index is not as high,” said Villareal.

With the new schedule healthcare workers finish earlier, which would typically be around 12:30 p.m.

“Other things that we’ve done, we have a tent where they are working to take the samples from the public, so that way they are directly away from the sunlight, so that keeps them cool,” said Villareal.

Something else they’re doing to beat the heat is providing cooling towels and vests.

“So basically, a cooling vest is a wet vest that helps keep the person cool,” said Villareal.

Authorities are also providing them with plenty of fluids, like water and sports drinks.

Saturday, temperatures are expected to soar again towards 100 degrees or higher.

Still, both Houston and Harris County COVID-19 testing centers are scheduled to open at 8 a.m. sharp and officials say the workers will finish out a full day.

The only difference is they will be taking more precautions than normal to stay safe and protect themselves from heatstroke.

“These people out here are tremendous, they just keep on working no matter what,” Jamal Chaw said.

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