Yesterday, I got the call that we have been making to thousands of people across Galveston County. I had been exposed to a patient with COVID-19. I called my boss, who told me to go home. I then called the University of Texas Medical Branch to arrange for a test and was given an appointment for the next day.

Driving home, I had the same reaction that most people have. I was worried about myself, my family and my patients. I felt a tickle in my throat. Is this COVID? Or just my allergies? As anxiety began to grip me, I realized how lucky I am to live in Galveston County.

All over America, people are struggling to access COVID testing. Some wait for days. Results are delayed for weeks. The backlog leads to untold anxiety, loss of work and spread of the virus. In Galveston County, however, anyone can call for an appointment, be tested within two days and get their result in 24 to 48 hours.

It wasn’t always this way. In March, we could send a few tests a day to the CDC. Then, scientists at UTMB’s Galveston National Laboratory developed their own test. Then UTMB’s clinical laboratory expanded its testing capacity and the Galveston County Health District started free drive-through testing.

When funds ran short, County Judge Mark Henry provided funding to ensure that all citizens of the county would have access to testing regardless of ability to pay. Cities such as Galveston have joined in to support testing.

This collaboration has been nothing short of remarkable; more than 80,000 people — a third of the county population — have been tested. The daily results of these tests are sent electronically to the health department, where we trace contacts, ask people to isolate and place daily wellness calls to provide medical advice if needed. As a consequence, our cases and hospitalizations have stabilized over the past few weeks, while cases continue to surge around the state.

Through hard work, our community has been able to identify people, such as me, who have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.

Some people understandably have questions about the cost of these tests and who pays for them. We make every effort to explain that federal guidelines require that private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid pay 100 percent for COVID-19 tests. What that means is that public funds can be used to provide testing for those who do not have insurance and cannot pay for testing.

We are proud of the county’s testing team, and we plan to expand our testing capacity to meet the demands in our county to fight this virus.

But testing alone will not stop this virus.

We all can do our part by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and washing our hands.

Dr. Philip Keiser is the Galveston County local health authority, a professor of internal medicine and an infectious disease expert at The University of Texas Medical Branch.

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(9) comments

Jim Forsythe

Thank you DR. PHILIP H. KEISER.

Jose' Boix

I am glad to read that Dr. Keiser is leading our local effort and also that he is doing well. However, his column states: "As a consequence, our cases and hospitalizations have stabilized over the past few weeks, while cases continue to surge around the state."

I would like to see posted the trended data showing this "stabilization." I presume that such trend is the "percent of Cases (tested positive) of all the Tested individuals." Such graphic depiction would help all of us "see" that what we are all doing is effectively working. Just my thoughts.

Bailey Jones

Jose, you can find the hospitalization data here - although it's in a spread sheet and you'll have to graph it yourself. https://www.dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus/TexasCOVID-19HospitalizationsOverTimebyTSA.xlsx

Also note that the data is by TSA - trauma service area - not county. But it does show that the Galveston TSA is stabilized at about 400+ hospitalizations per week. Although given the height of the curve, I'd say plateaued rather than stabilized.

Also, state and county cases and deaths are graphed here - https://tabexternal.dshs.texas.gov/t/THD/views/COVIDExternalQC/COVIDTrends

It also shows that Galveston has plateaued.

Jose' Boix

Bailey: Thanks again, and yes I have been plotting the % of Cases/Tested (only for Galveston Co. using the GCHD data) since way back and it looks like this trend is "cresting" at about 7.5-7.6%. I believe this is what it is called "Positivity Rate" and I read that it is a good trend to follow.

Bailey Jones

Yes, the positivity rate is good. Also hospitalizations, since hospital capacity is really what this is all about. I prefer to follow the death rate, I think it's the best reported of all the data, but only at the state and national level - too few deaths in Galveston County to really follow the trend.

Gary Scoggin

Thanks for your leadership, Dr. Keiser.

Mary Gillespie

I've been waiting 10 days for results of a Covid test. My exposure was 20 days ago, so my quarantine time has come and gone, and I still don't know my test results.

Slow test results like mine are meaningless and will not help slow the spread of the disease.

Carlos Ponce

Interesting. The restaurant manager told me some of her patrons went to be tested, filled out the forms, waited but had to leave without being tested. But they both got results within 5 days. Both got a notice of positive for COVID - without being tested.

Bailey Jones

Unfortunately that seems to be common, Mary. We've had three exposures in our "pod" at my job. In each case the test results took more than a week to come back. Although the results were negative, the people had to quarantine while we all waited - to find out if we had all been exposed a week earlier.

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