What we know about coronavirus testing in Texas
Even as demand for testing has increased, public and federal labs continue to prioritize Texans who meet certain criteria.
As of April 1, 2020, this story is no longer being updated. As a result, the information below may be out of date or inaccurate as the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic change.
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Do you suspect that you have the new coronavirus? Confirming your suspicions — and knowing how many other Texans have been tested — may be difficult.
Texas Department of State Health Services data released March 28 shows that there were at least 2,052 coronavirus cases in Texas. For weeks in March, the state’s daily disclosures of positive cases lagged behind what county health officials were reporting. Because of that and limited testing, the state's numbers gave an inaccurate portrayal of the virus' spread throughout Texas. The state's updated reporting system now tracks case counts directly from counties instead of relying on official case forms, which come in later and were causing the state’s official count to lag hundreds behind other tallies.
At least 25,260 Texans have been tested. But, a spokesman for the agency said that number still does not include testing done by all private labs. With the governor’s executive order in place to bolster reporting capabilities, officials anticipate that additional labs will be reporting their numbers soon.
Here’s what we know about getting tested in Texas:
How many tests are available in Texas?
Gov. Greg Abbott said March 16 that he expected the state to be able to test 10,000 people weekly.
Seth Christensen, a spokesman for the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said on March 26 the state had received 15,000 test kits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and it is expecting another shipment of 15,000 test kits by March 28. Each kit can test one person, he said.
The Trump administration also said that almost 2 million tests would be available to some 2,000 commercial labs across the U.S. by March 21. According to the American Clinical Laboratory Association, its commercial lab members — which include ARUP, BioReference Laboratories, LabCorp, Mayo Clinic Laboratories, Quest Diagnostics, and Sonic Healthcare — reported having conducted a total 405,000 tests as of March 25, including 67,000 completed tests for March 25.
It’s unclear if commercial labs in Texas have received any of the 2 million tests Trump promised for the nation.
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.
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, Dallas, Houston and El Paso are some of the cities that recently set up drive-through testing, but access to many of these sites remains limited.
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 when or where 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. On March 10, 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.
State officials have encouraged Texans to call 2-1-1 to find nearby free or reduced-cost clinics.
President Trump signed a bill on March 18 that allocates money for free coronavirus testing, expands sick-leave provisions and bolsters funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
How long do results take?
It depends. Though Texas has dramatically increased its testing capacity, many who have been tested are waiting days on end for the results, and sometimes a week or more, according to Texas Tribune interviews with patients and healthcare professionals. Those delays, along with the relatively low number of tests conducted so far, mean no one really knows the true picture of the coronavirus spread in Texas, and patients aren’t getting the timely information they need to respond accordingly, patients and experts say.
How does coronavirus compare with the flu?
Coronavirus comes with seasonal flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Severe cases of the virus can lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome and kidney failure. It also can be deadly for a small percentage of the population, according to the World Health Organization.
Similar to respiratory illnesses like the flu, coronavirus spreads from person-to-person contact, such as coughing, sneezing or touching infected surfaces, according to the CDC. Both diseases are especially dangerous for people who are older than 65, but the flu is more dangerous for children and pregnant women, according to The New York Times.
However, early reports indicate the coronavirus appears to be more contagious and have a higher fatality rate than the flu. Unlike the flu, there is no vaccine available to prevent or reduce cases of coronavirus.
How long does it take for symptoms to start showing?
The time between catching COVID-19 and showing symptoms — the incubation period — ranges from one to 14 days, most commonly five days, according to the World Health Organization. The WHO plans to update that estimate as more information is gathered.
What is the course of the virus? How long does it last?
It depends. Once someone is infected, he or she can face symptoms from days to weeks. Some patients show only mild symptoms, while other patients’ symptoms worsen to an infection of the lower respiratory tract. All patients should closely monitor their symptoms.
There are some risk factors for progression to more severe illness, including older age and underlying conditions like lung disease, cancer, heart failure, cerebrovascular disease, renal disease, liver disease, diabetes, a compromised immune system and pregnancy, according to the CDC.
What’s the fatality rate for coronavirus?
"Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% of those infected," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said March 4. The seasonal flu has a mortality rate of about 0.1%.
According to a paper published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, the fatality rates for the elderly or people with other underlying health conditions can be much higher — as high as 14% for people over the age of 80.
It is important to note that it is very early and data is still being gathered, so the fatality rate for COVID-19 could change, according to PBS NewsHour.
Does the flu shot lessen the severity of coronavirus?
No. The flu shot builds up an immunity specifically to the flu, so it won’t lessen the severity of or protect from COVID-19.
But doctors are still urging people to get the flu shot in the hopes of freeing up crucial hospital beds.
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