What we know about Coronavirus testing in Texas

A medical professional in protective equipment prepares to administer a test at a facility in around Rock.
Credit: Jordan Vanderhaar, Texas Tribune


Editor's note: This story has been updated with a comment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Do you suspect that you have the new coronavirus? Confirming your suspicions may be difficult unless you meet Texas’ 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 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.

A FEMA spokesperson said March 18 that the test kits will be supplied by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adding that FEMA has been assisting HHS with planning, coordination, logistics and outreach to states.

The Trump administration said earlier this week 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. People who need help finding doctors 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 March 19, 2,335 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 in public health labs, private clinics or hospitals. A doctor can determine if a patient qualifies for a public health lab test by using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. San Antonio, Austin, Corpus Christi and Dallas 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.

In Corpus Christi, a drive-through testing site was opened in the parking lot of an abandoned hospital on Thursday. Nueces County has had zero cases of COVID-19 confirmed as of Friday morning. Health officials say that they expect that could change as results begin to return. 16 people were tested on Thursday in Corpus Christi. 

Another testing location has been set up at a private lab that will accept patients with Medicare or private health insurance. 

Officials in Kleberg County (Kingsville) say that they will begin testing on Saturday. Friday morning the public park that is being utilized as the designated testing location was closed for preparation. 

A private clinic in Houston began testing people March 18, but the clinic says it is prioritizing “test patients who are at risk for the disease,” because of a limited number of exams. A new drive-through COVID-19 testing facility opened in Houston on March 19, but three others can't open yet because of a lack of resources, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

At Austin’s two drive-through locations, visitors don’t have to be health care workers or first responders. But to access the drive-through, visitors must first complete a prescreening questionnaire via Baylor Scott & White Health’s website or app. Depending on the results of the questionnaire, patients must go through an additional screening with a nurse or doctor online. The health care professionals 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 March 16 it had opened drive-through testing of 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 health care provider, and the hospitals and commercial labs can select who gets tested based on their own requirements.

On March 17, Abbott said FEMA would soon conduct testing in Texas, 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 March 18, 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 March 16, is headed to the U.S. Senate for a vote in the coming days.

As of Thursday, there were at least 161 coronavirus cases in Texas

Texas Tribune: What We Know About Coronavirus Testing In Texas