Walk-up COVID-19 testing site

A Texas National Guard medic pulls a swab from packaging to administer a COVID-19 test at a mobile walk-up testing site at the Victoria Community Center.

As COVID-19 case numbers rise again in the Crossroads, Refugio and Matagorda counties are offering free testing sites this week.

Matagorda County, which has offered testing every other week since early August, is hosting a testing site at the Bay City Civic Center from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Refugio County’s testing site is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday at the elementary school in Tivoli, an area which Sheldon Wiginton, the county’s emergency management coordinator, said has not had regular access to testing during the pandemic.

“That’s one of the reasons I like to test over there,” Wiginton said. “It’s those residents in Tivoli that have to go over to Victoria or Port Lavaca to get tested. We’re just offering it down the street from them.”

An appointment is not required at either testing site.

Free testing sites were held more regularly throughout the Crossroads in the spring and early summer but availability has been sporadic in recent months, even with dozens of new cases being reported in several local counties in recent weeks. In Victoria County, the number of known active cases more than tripled during the two-week period between Nov. 2 and Nov. 16.

In some counties with few free testing sites run by state agencies, local hospitals step in to fill the need. Hoss Whitt, CEO of Refugio County Memorial Hospital, said his hospital is currently testing about four people a day. The hospital bills patients for the minimum amount to cover the cost of the test, Whitt said, and the fee is typically covered by insurance plans for those who have them.

Compared to other parts of Texas, where cases and hospitalizations are rising rapidly, Whitt said the state of the pandemic is still relatively calm in Refugio County. His hospital hasn’t admitted any COVID-19 patients in about two months, he said.

After a brief period with no active cases reported by the state, nine new cases have been reported in the county since Saturday.

While the hospital receives results from tests conducted on-site quickly, Whitt said he believes the county is getting delayed results from the state for residents who are tested elsewhere. This could pose problems if case numbers in Refugio County rise further, he said.

An official from the Texas Department of State Health Services could not immediately be reached for comment.

“As long as the numbers are low, it’s not real important, but if the numbers come up, it could affect how we plan,” Whitt said.

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Mark Rosenberg reports on rural community life for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at mrosenberg@vicad.com or 361-574-1264 or on Twitter at @markrosenberg32. To support local journalism at the Advocate through Report for America, go to VictoriaAdvocate.com/report.

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