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.