Galveston County will open a mass COVID-19 testing site next week as demand continues to climb to its highest point of the pandemic.
The drive-through testing site will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday at the Galveston County Health District, 9850 Emmett F. Lowry Expressway.
Appointments are required for the tests, which will be administered and processed through the University of Texas Medical Branch.
The drive-through site will have the ability to test up to 500 people a day, health district spokeswoman Ashley Tompkins said.
The district is encouraging Galveston County residents who feel sick or who have had exposure to someone else positive for COVID-19 to be tested so they can treat and isolate themselves and have some peace of mind, Tomkins said.
“Many of the respiratory viruses that we’re seeing right now — COVID-19, the flu, cold — have similar symptoms,” Tompkins said. “It’s best to not guess. Get tested. You can get the treatment you need and keep yourself, family and community safe.”
The tests are free but limited to Galveston County residents. People with insurance are covered through their plans. Galveston County will pay for the tests for the uninsured. The county since 2020 has committed a portion of its federal COVID-relief funds to paying for public access to testing.
The drive-through site is another expansion of public testing that has come with the rapid rise of the omicron variant. Last week, the health district restarted pop-up testing in areas around the county, marking the first outreach of that kind since the early days of the pandemic.
More Galveston County residents are being tested for COVID-19. During the first full week of December, the Galveston County Health District reported the results of about 650 COVID-19 tests a day. This week, the district reported the results of about 2,200 tests a day.
During the week of Dec. 5, about 8 percent of tests collected from county residents were positive for COVID-19. During the week of Jan. 2, about 21 percent of tests collected from residents were positive, according to the health district.
A smaller percentage of tests collected since Jan. 9 have come back positive, but it can take a week or longer for tests results to be fully reported.
County officials this week said they were concerned and frustrated that people were seeking and paying for tests at private providers when the free COVID tests were available through the medical branch.
The drive-through testing program will be open next week. Officials are in early talks about extending it through the week of Jan. 24.
The county has committed to funding public testing efforts through at least June.
“We continue to fully support and fund testing initiatives,” Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said in a statement Friday. “With such a high demand for testing right now, this temporary testing site at the Health District makes sense in ensuring that every resident has access to a test if they need one.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people should be tested for COVID-19 if they have symptoms of the virus or if they have had recent close contact with someone who has tested positive within the past five days.
The CDC doesn’t say it’s necessary to wait for a negative test result to safely end an isolation period. People who test positive and are asymptomatic should isolate for at least five days, according to the CDC.
People with symptoms should isolate until those symptoms subside and wait another five days after that, according to the CDC.