Free COVID-19 testing for uninsured resumes at Starr County site

Officials confer before the start of a press conference Saturday at the site where Starr County will begin offering drive-thru coronavirus testing on Sunday. (Monitor photo)

Starr County is resuming free COVID-19 tests for individuals without insurance at its drive-thru testing site.

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera announced Friday that free COVID-19 tests would resume this week at their testing site which is now located at the Starr County Fair Grounds at 1323 E. San Benito St., Rio Grande City.

“After weeks of collaborative work with our Schools, Cities, & Hospital, we will resume Free COVID-19 Testing for non-insured citizens on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020,” Vera stated on his Facebook page. “Thank you to our Schools, Cities, & Hospital for working with my office to get the job done.”

In early July, the county stopped offering free tests for those without insurance because covering those costs had become too expensive.

Since first setting up the testing site in March, up until early July, the county had spent between $150,000 and $200,000 on the COVID-19 tests, according to Vera.

But now, Vera said, the county has reached an agreement with other entities throughout the county to cover the cost.

“We’ve been working together for the last week, week and a half, with the school districts, the city — the mayor and the city councils — and the hospital and I asked for their help,” Vera said. “We came to an agreement where the hospital and the county would pay for the bulk of the testing and then the school districts and the cities, depending on their size, they would pay different percentages towards this thing.”

When the county’s testing site started charging people without insurance, the number of people who showed up decreased significantly, according to the county’s local health authority, Dr. Jose Vazquez.

Vazquez previously stated that the number of tests administered there went down from the hundreds to 20 or 30 daily.

“I think it behooved all of us that we continue testing at the same rate that we were testing before,” Vera said. “If not, we wouldn’t have an accurate picture of our county as to how many people actually had the virus.”

To reduce long wait times — which could extend for hours — the county implemented mandatory pre-registration for everyone, regardless if they had insurance or not, which can be done by calling a new hotline: (956) 500-6933.

Individuals can make an appointment by calling that number Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The testing site, itself, is open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.