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What we know about coronavirus testing in Texas

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A medical professional wearing protective clothing administers a test to a patient at a drive-through COVID-19 testing facility at Baylor, Scott and White Medical Center in Round Rock. Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

Do you suspect that you have the new coronavirus? Confirming your suspicions may be difficult unless you meet Texas’ current strict criteria for lab testing.

How many tests are available in Texas? Gov. Greg Abbott said that by the end of the week he expects the state to be able to test 10,000 people weekly. The governor said Tuesday that the state is expected to receive 15,000 test kits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It’s unclear how many people can be tested with each kit.

The Trump administration said that almost 2 million tests would be available to some 2,000 commercial labs by the end of this week.

Do I qualify? According to Texas Health and Human Services, it’s up to your doctor to decide if you should be tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Anyone who needs help finding a doctor can call 2-1-1 to find low or no-cost providers in their area.

But meeting with a doctor and exhibiting some of COVID-19’s common symptoms, like fever, cough and shortness of breath, does not guarantee you’ll be tested at one of the 10 public health labs in Texas.

As of Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott said 1,264 Texans have been tested for COVID-19. Even as demand for testing has increased, public and federal labs continue to prioritize testing Texans who meet the following criteria:

  • high-risk patients

  • hospital patients with COVID-19 symptoms

  • health care workers who’ve been in close contact with someone who’s tested positive for the new coronavirus

  • patients with recent travel history in areas that have been affected by the disease

Where can I get tested? Texans can be tested either in a public health lab, private clinics or hospitals. A doctor can determine if a patient qualifies for a public health lab test by using the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines. San Antonio, Austin and Dallas have recently set up drive-through testing, but access to these sites remains limited.

San Antonio, which opened the state’s first drive-through with testing capabilities, has prioritized health care workers and high-risk patients.

A private clinic in Houston began testing people on Wednesday, although the clinic says it is prioritizing “test patients who are at risk for the disease,” due to a limited number of exams. Free drive-through testing has yet to open in Houston, but two test sites are expected to open later this week, according to the Houston Chronicle.

At Austin’s two drive-through locations, visitors don’t have to be healthcare workers or first responders. But to access the drive-through, visitors must first complete a pre-screening questionnaire via Baylor Scott and White Health’s website or app. Depending on the results of their questionnaire, patients must go through an additional screening with a nurse or doctor online. The health care professional will schedule an in-person appointment at a drive-through facility if they believe the patient should be tested.

In Dallas, Parkland Health & Hospital System announced Monday it had opened drive-through testing patients for the new coronavirus. Testing will be by appointment only and is available to current Parkland patients, first responders and health care workers. People will be interviewed by phone before they’re approved for testing.

Anyone who doesn’t meet the criteria for state lab testing can seek a private test at a commercial lab — but not everyone can get tested that way either. The Food and Drug Administration is allowing certain hospitals and commercial labs to use their own coronavirus tests as a way to mitigate a shortage of tests from the CDC. But private tests must be ordered by a patient’s doctor or healthcare provider, and the hospitals and commercial labs can select who gets tested based on their own requirements.

On Tuesday, Abbott said testing would also soon be conducted in Texas by FEMA, in addition to current testing being done by hospitals, public health authorities and private operators. He did not specify how FEMA would conduct these tests.

How much does it cost? The tests conducted by state labs are free, but that’s not necessarily the case with tests conducted by private labs. Last week, Abbott asked state-regulated insurance plans to waive the costs of testing for the new coronavirus. Nearly all of them agreed to do this, but uninsured Texans can still be billed for the cost of treatment, such as a hospital visit or physician’s fees.

On Wednesday, a private clinic in Houston said it’s charging $150 to test people for the new coronavirus at its drive-through testing site.

State officials have encouraged Texans to call 2-1-1 to find nearby free or reduced-cost clinics.

The U.S. House passed legislation that will allocate money for free coronavirus testing, expand sick leave provisions and bolster funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The bill, passed on Monday, is headed to the U.S. Senate for a vote in the coming days.