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OC’s Ardoin eyes drive-through testing


Last updated 3/24/2020 at Noon

Photo: Michael White, emergency management coordinator for Jefferson County, is backed by county judges (including Orange County's John Gothia, right) and others as he explains the procedures in place at the drive-through COVID-19 testing site at Jack Brooks Regional Airport Monday afternoon. RECORD PHOTO: Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers

For The Record

The first public drive-through COVID-19 testing center in Southeast Texas opened Tuesday morning on the circle drive in front of the Jerry Ware Terminal at the Jack Brooks Regional Airport on U.S. 69/96 in Nederland.

Orange County could be next in line to host its own testing center in the near future, Emergency Management Coordinator Joel Ardoin said.

Regional health officials said the test is free, but not freely available.

Because of the scarcity of the testing kits and personal protection equipment, regional residents will not be admitted to a public testing center until after they have been prescreened by telephone and been given and appointment and a unique code number.

If someone thinks they might have been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms (fever, dry cough, shortness of breath) they can call the hotline at 409-550-2536 to be evaluated for testing.

“This is a plan we’ve been working on for a couple of days,” Hardin County Judge Wayne McDaniel told a group of nine media members Monday as the emergency management teams from Hardin, Jefferson, Orange, Jasper and Newton Counties previewed Tuesday’s rollout.

Those five counties have established the Southeast Texas Regional Emergency Operations Center at the Jefferson County Courthouse in downtown Beaumont.

“This will serve the region very well,” McDaniel said. “But you must be pre-screened by nurses, because we have precious few test kits.”

As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, there were nine confirmed COVID-19 cases in the five-county area including Orange, Jefferson, Hardin, Newton and Jasper counties.

Three new cases were confirmed Monday, but no new cases were confirmed Tuesday. Six of the cases are in Beaumont, one in Lumberton, one in Silsbee and one of those confirmed lives in the Mauriceville area of Orange County.

A total of 648 people had contacted the call center by 3 p.m. Tuesday. Of those, 107 were referred for testing. A total of 14 people were tested at the drive-through site Tuesday. The test took an average of 5 minutes per patient.

McDaniel was joined by a number of elected officials, including Orange County Judge John Gothia, at the airport presentation for the media late Monday afternoon.

Earlier Monday, Ardoin explained to Orange County commissioners how the hotline will handle a caller.

“The call center is staffed with nurses,” Ardoin said. “It was set up to keep hospitals from getting overrun, because of the shortage of test kits.

“Callers will be triaged twice on the phone,” he said, meaning the nurses will determine the priority of the patient’s condition for treatment. “If the case warrants it, a nurse practitioner will contact the people by phone and they will be referred to a testing center, where they will be triaged again before being tested.”

The national consensus at this time is that people who have a moderate fever but no acute breathing difficulties should self-quarantine.

LaTasha Mayon, Assistant Health Director for Port Arthur, told reporters Monday that those without an appointment, identification and unique code number will be turned away by law enforcement officers at the first of three triage stations at the airport.

Those who have an appointment will have their temperature taken and asked a series of questions regarding their symptoms.

The final step is a nasal sample with a long swab as used in other flu tests.

“It takes three seconds to do it,” said Judith Smith, Port Arthur’s Public Health Director. “Then we put your identification info and the sample into a biohazard bag and store it on ice for daily pickup.”

Test results should be available in four to six days and those tested will be notified by phone regarding next steps, said Davilyn Walston, spokesman for the local U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Ardoin told Orange County commissioners that as the numbers lined up Monday morning, Orange County stood to be second in line to establish a county-wide testing site for COVID-19, also known as the new coronavirus.

He explained that in the first three days of the hotline’s existence -- last Friday through Sunday -- that Orange county’s 59 calls were the second-most received after much larger Jefferson County. He said that a second Southeast Texas testing site will open in the second-most affected county when and if supplies allow.


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