A line snaked around the side of the Victoria Community Center on Thursday, where the sun beat down on the asphalt and hundreds of people waiting to get tested for COVID-19.
Toward the front entrance, a woman said she had been waiting nearly three hours to get tested for the coronavirus at the site, which was coordinated by the Texas Military Department in partnership with the Texas Department of Emergency Management, Victoria County and the City of Victoria.
As 54 more cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Victoria County on Thursday and cases in the region surpassed 1,000, many people found the wait worth the test.
One woman read a book while shuffling her feet in line. Another sat comfortably in a lawn chair with an umbrella. Toward the back, a few children played games to keep themselves entertained.
A total of 747 people from Victoria and surrounding counties were tested for the virus at the walk-up testing site on Thursday, said Rick McBrayer, the Victoria County Emergency Management Coordinator.
All were wearing a mask, except maybe a handful to a dozen people, he said.
“We were estimating that there were at least 1,500 to 2,000 out in line, but some people were coming with family members and there might have been four or five people in one family, but only one was getting tested,” McBrayer said. “As the heat came on, we also saw some people get tired of waiting and leave.”
The site was open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but because of the large crowd that showed up, officials decided to halt incoming traffic at 1 p.m. to give time to test everyone who was already in line.
“We quickly knew that we were going to have an influx of people, more so than the military had seen in other locations they had been at,” McBrayer said.
Orange cones blocked off entrances to the parking lot after 1 p.m.
People tried to park on the side of East North Street and walk up, but were told to come back Friday, when the site will reopen from 8 a.m. to noon.
The Texas National Guard members broke into two testing teams in the morning to be able to run two lanes of testing at once.
Once a person gets to the front of the line, they are taken to check in, where their identification information is verified, said a National Guard captain who was in charge of the mobile collection site.
From there, they go to a holding area and are briefed on how the test will work before getting swabbed.
On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that starting on Thursday, every person who gets tested for COVID-19 at a mobile site will be given four free masks.
“Wearing a mask or facial covering in public is an effective way for Texans to protect themselves and others from the transmission of COVID-19,” Abbott said in a news release. “This program helps ensure that Texans have the resources they need to effectively mitigate the spread of this virus.”
Everyone who got tested at the community center on Thursday was handed masks as they walked out the door.
Some people did complain about the collection site being walk-up and not drive-thru, which meant having to stand outside while waiting, McBrayer said.
But that is preferred by the Texas Military Department and Texas Department of State Health Services for a reason. The majority of people waiting to get tested were understanding, he said.
No appointment or screening was required to get tested for COVID-19, and testing was provided at no cost.
Walk-up testing sites are more efficient than drive-thru because more people can be swabbed in the same time frame, the National Guard captain said.
Each team can test about 40 people every hour at a walk-up testing site, compared to 15 every hour at a drive-thru site, the captain said.
Officials handed out bottled water and set up tents for shade, but McBrayer said there were a few medical emergencies at the community center.
He said a handful of people, who either had health conditions or were elderly, started feeling the effects of high temperatures, which neared 89 degrees.
One woman was transported to a local hospital from the center, he said. The others met with medics, got hydrated and were able to go inside and get tested.
The collection site will reopen at 8 a.m. Friday.
Any person planning to get tested is encouraged to bring a chair and wear comfortable shoes and clothing.
Because of high temperatures expected on Friday, officials are also encouraging residents to bring water, stay hydrated and find shade while waiting.
“Expect that there is going to be a wait because the sample collection takes a few minutes,” McBrayer said. “We’re doing the best we can, but be patient, make sure you’re appropriately ready for hot and humid weather, and standing out in the sun for an extended period of time.”