Texas testing centers drowning under virus wave

By: AFP      Published: 02:41 PM, 30 Jun, 2020
Texas testing centers drowning under virus wave

Armed with blankets and pillows, Texans wait in their cars for hours outside a testing center in Houston, one of the new COVID-19 epicenters in the US.

"I've been here since three in the morning," said Maria Solis to AFP. The 22-year-old has come to get tested for a second time, after her first came back positive, prompting her to quarantine for 14 days.

In two weeks, the situation in Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States, has sharply declined -- as seen outside the United Memorial Medical Center Tidwell, a hospital in a residential neighborhood in north Houston.

"When I first got tested, there were no lines whatsoever and that was maybe two weeks ago," Solis said.

"I just went inside and it was maybe three cars, and now it's a big growing number. It's kind of scary."

The spread of the coronavirus in Texas has taken a "swift and very dangerous turn," according to Republican governor Greg Abbott.

Everyone is watching the rate of infection, which is currently at 14 percent -- double what it was at the beginning of June.

Concerns have become so great that Houston is often compared to New York city, which has three times as many residents, at the start of the pandemic.

- Multiple attempts -

Huge pickup trucks and ordinary sedans -- all the cars move one by one from the line through the white tents constructed in the hospital parking lot.

Some people came with their families, and more than one person has nodded off during the long wait.

Fernando Galvez, a medical student, joined the long line at 4:00 am.

After seven hours of waiting, he hopes that he can get tested this time, after multiple failed attempts over the past four days, despite his exhibiting symptoms -- sore throat and chest tightness.

The first day he tried to get a test, he arrived at 6:30 am. "There was no chance," the 24-year-old said. "So here I am again."

He's been volunteering in a medical clinic and thinks he might have caught COVID-19 while working there.

Similarly, Raquel Smith, 48, works in the medical field and hopes to get tested for the first time. Her bosses requested that she get a test.

She arrived before 4:00 am, she told AFP.

"I'm a frontline worker so this is just recommended now, because of the high increase now in cases here," the respiratory therapist said.

More than 125,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the US, by far the hardest-hit country in the world.

Some Houstonians think the spiking case numbers across the southern and western United States should serve as a national wake-up call.

Bent over his cell phone, Pedro Balderas, 39, has also spent countless hours waiting in the line of cars. He thinks leaders should make wearing a mask -- a source of heated debate across the country -- mandatory.

"I think they'd help a whole lot," he said.

US records more than 42,000 new cases

The United States recorded at least 42,000 coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours, the Johns Hopkins University tally showed Monday, as the country confronts a rapid surge in the disease.

The new infections, concentrated in southern and western states, bring the total number of infections in the US to nearly 2.6 million, according to the Baltimore-based institution at 8:30pm (0030 GMT Tuesday).

The number of daily US deaths in the world's largest economic power continues to decline however, with 355 deaths in 24 hours.

Several state governors have been forced to reimpose lockdowns on businesses such as restaurants and bars, though the White House blames the rise in cases to record levels largely on expanded testing and not community spread.

UK reimposes lockdown on Leicester

Britain on Monday reimposed lockdown measures on a city hit by an outbreak of coronavirus, in the first big test of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's "whack-a-mole" strategy to control the disease while getting the economy moving again.

Ministers ordered schools and non-essential shops to be closed and postponed the planned reopening of pubs in the central English city of Leicester after an alarming spike in cases of COVID-19.

Britain has suffered the deadliest outbreak of the virus in Europe, with more than 43,000 deaths, but Johnson last month began easing nationwide stay-at-home orders imposed in late March.

Amid warnings he was moving too fast, with infection and death rates falling but slowly, he vowed to clamp down on local outbreaks like the game "whack-a-mole".

Virus-hit hospitals and factories have been shut so far but the measures in Leicester, with a population of 340,000, is the first move to restore lockdown on such a large scale.

"We must control this virus. We must keep people safe," Health Secretary Matt Hancock told parliament after a lengthy meeting with local leaders, some of whom had opposed the measures.

"Local action like this an important tool in our armoury to deal with outbreaks while we get the country back on our feet."

- Build, build, build -

The dramatic action threatens to overshadow Johnson's big speech on Tuesday setting out how he plans to "build, build, build" to get Britain out of a deep recession brought on by the lockdown.

Johnson said Britain needed the type of massive economic response that US president Franklin D. Roosevelt mobilised to deal with the Great Depression.

He has earmarked £1 billion ($1.2 billion) for school repairs and a further £4 billion for "shovel-ready" projects that cover everything for road maintenance to public transport.

In extracts of his speech released by Downing Street, Johnson said his plan "sounds positively Rooseveltian, it sounds like a New Deal". 

"All I can say is that if so, then that is how it is meant to sound and to be, because that is what the times demand."

Roosevelt launched the New Deal programme in the 1930s that created a comprehensive social care system whose legacy lives on to this day.