"This . . . is not going to be . . . (like a) drive-through at the Whataburger"

McComb, county unveil plans and site for upcoming local COVID-19 testing
Posted at 1:19 PM, Mar 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-16 00:49:31-04

City of Corpus Christi and Nueces County officials have unveiled their process for testing potential COVID-19 patients in Corpus Christi.

There still are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nueces County, a point both Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb and Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District Executive Director Annette Rodriguez stressed.

"This is an effort to stay ahead of the spread," Rodriguez said.

Officials emphasized that the test is not for the general public, and residents will not be allowed at the testing center without a health-district issued appointment.

"First and foremost, people need to understand that this testing center is not going to be just for 'We're open to the public,' kind of drive-through at the Whataburger," said McComb.

A statement from the City of Corpus Christi confirms what McComb told KRIS 6 News early Sunday afternoon -- that a scene that included barricades around the old Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital, and people in protective gear in the area -- was a test run conducted to test the effectiveness of the vacant hospital as a mobile COVID-19 testing site.

With no warning as to what was happening in their neighborhood, however, residents were alarmed.

"They, uh, have people in these suits, and it's just concerning to us that we're not notified of what's going on in our neighborhood," said area resident Carmen Pruett.

Buford Memorial COVID-19 test run 0315.jpg
People in protective suits gave residents in the neighborhoods around the disused Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital a scare Sunday morning.

McComb apologized for worrying people, saying it was unintentional, and that not informing residents had been an oversight.

"I would be as surprised if I'd be driving down the street and see somebody out there standing around in a HAZMAT suit, so I apologize for that on behalf of the group," he said.

The purpose of Sunday's exercise was to "get all the bugs worked out before we just announce it to the world," he said. "We're trying to make it as smooth as possible."

Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales said the test was a success, and had been conducted by "a cohort of 10 individuals," but it is unknown who, if anyone, was tested.

Qualifying for testing is a procedure city and county officials are calling a "two-step."

The first step is to call the Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District at (361) 826-7200, where an assessment will be done to decide whether a potential patient meets testing criteria set forth by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

If the patient is determined to be a candidate for testing, the second step will be to set up an appointment to be drive-through tested at the old trauma hospital.

“This two-step self-assessment and telephone screening process is critical to ensure efficient and timely treatment to those who need attention,” said Public Health Director Annette Rodriguez in a statement. “Those meeting the symptoms criteria then will be given information on testing.”

Canales said the model, announced by Gov. Greg Abbott and available in a few other major cities, will adopt best-practice guidelines set forth by the CDC and will adhere to HIPAA privacy standards.

The test will have potential patients pull up in their cars for testing once given an appointment by the health district. People can be tested while sitting in their cars, and will not be required to leave the parking lot.