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HSC opens COVID-19 testing site for first responders

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 - 11am

The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth (HSC) has opened an off-campus COVID-19 testing site for Tarrant County area first responders who may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus but are not experiencing symptoms.

Available exclusively to first responders, the testing site is intended to keep first responders informed of their health status, and to allow those who test negative to return to their jobs rather than wait out the 14-day self-observation period after a possible exposure. First responders include police, fire, emergency medical technicians, paramedics and constables.

The drive-through testing site is a partnership that includes HSC, Catalyst Health Network, the Fort Worth Fire Department and Keith Argenbright, MD, Professor at UT Southwestern and Director at the Moncrief Cancer Institute.

“Our first responders are on the front lines of this health crisis, working tirelessly to protect all of us from this deadly pandemic,” HSC President Michael R. Williams said. “This new testing site will help protect our first responders and keep those who are healthy out in the community providing their valuable services. We are proud to support these heroes.”

Currently, a first responder who may have been exposed to the coronavirus, but is not experiencing symptoms, is required to go into a 14-day observation period. But by testing those individuals in self-observation about 72 hours after their potential exposure, those who test negative could be back at work much sooner.

First responders who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or who are believed to be at extremely high risk of transmission will be tested through other processes.

“Through our partnership, we are able to test first responders and get results back in five days at the longest but possibly within about 48 hours,” said Dr. Mark Chassay, HSC Chief Clinical & Medical Officer. “That means more first responders can decide with their supervisors whether it is appropriate to return to their job duties sooner.”

An Infection Disease Coordinator at the Joint Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the City of Fort Worth is the primary point of contact for first responders. The coordinator will conduct an environmental and clinical assessment to determine if COVID testing is warranted. If so, the responder will be contacted by HSC within 24 to 48 hours to schedule the test.

First responders undergoing tests will remain in their vehicles and be approached by an HSC faculty member who will describe and perform a collection method of nasopharyngeal and swabbing. Test results will be shared only with the first responder, who is then responsible for informing their employing agency of the results.