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It shouldn’t be this hard to find a COVID test in Dallas

This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas.

Drug stores are out of home tests, lines are long at testing centers, and private providers are expensive.
COVID Testing
Lines of people waiting in cars to be tested for COVID-19 at the YesNoCovid.com testing site along Northwest Highway and Abrams Road in Dallas, on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021. (Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

By Jo Guldi and Macabe Keliher

Two days before Christmas our families shared a meal together. We sang songs at the piano and played board games. No one suspected COVID-19. We wouldn’t have even tested, except for the airplane flight the next day.

By Christmas Eve, one of the spouses had a positive test result. We were fortunate that we didn’t end up in the hospital, but still, Christmas was ruined. And that was just the start of our troubles.

Surely, we thought, testing the rest of us would be easy and straightforward. How wrong we were.

Rapid tests are supposedly available in any CVS or local pharmacy, but in late December, availability dried up, and even rationing measures by retailers haven’t worked. We drove from drug store to drug store without results; we phoned and shopped and found nothing.

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So much for self-testing. Private Provider A was recommended and subsidized by our employer. One of us scheduled a screening appointment, which required a seemingly exorbitant amount of paperwork and a virtual visit with a doctor. When a testing appointment was offered it was only for the individual. The rest of the family, the scheduler intoned, would each need to first have a virtual screening before a COVID-19 test could be scheduled. Each of those visits would cost $75, after which separate trips to the testing center at different hours of the day would be necessary — a hefty inconvenience for those of us with multiple children who can’t drive themselves.

Private Provider B, recommended by the Dallas County website, offers free testing at two drive-up locations. Provider B also required a long wait and a lot of paperwork. One of us made an online appointment for 1 p.m., only to show up and learn that the two overworked men at the site were on lunch break. An hour later, the line of parked cars winding through the coned parking lot indicated that no one else got the message either.

After a long wait all the family got swabbed. The website promised results in only 24 to 36 hours. But 72 hours later we were still waiting for that text. When one of us called Provider B, she was treated to a long recording, after which the provider hung up.

We’d spent, cumulatively, a dozen hours of online research, on top of hours spent driving from store to store. The primary prompt for all this work — the test — wasn’t accomplished. We were still waiting. How could this be? We compared notes.

An efficient solution would be to create a state regulatory agency to give power to known and trusted institutions that have long demonstrated that they are worthy of the public trust. We would like to see an agency or university charged with making a map of where you can get tested, what the current waitlist looks like, how much the testing costs, and when customers can expect results, based on data instead of empty promises.

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We’d like to see the state track COVID-19 cases and inform citizens of when they need to be tested — something that would protect allTexans against the virus, whatever their personal choices about vaccination. Delaware has begun taking this type of initiative with such a website, and Texas could too.

Centralized management of data works in a pandemic. Beyond the U.S., countries like Taiwan that have privileged a data-driven response have succeeded in suppressing transmission and mortality, and the safest nations on the planet right now are those with a centralized data response.

Some will doubt that the state should be involved in Texas, on principle. But the state is actually the entity doing the best work of all in Texas as it is. In Dallas, the state medical school — UT Southwestern — has been one of the most reliable providers of vaccination and testing to Texans, both insured and uninsured, with relatively little paperwork and low wait times.

In the final hour, still waiting for test results from Provider B, one of us booked a drive-through test for the entire family at UTSW. They were willing to see the entire family at once without a preliminary video call. We were swabbed on time after a minimal wait. We had results an hour later.

UTSW shows what a well-organized institution can accomplish. But it’s worth noting that UTSW is a stateinstitution, funded by taxpayer money. It’s charged with responsibility for the welfare of the citizens of Texas. It isn’t a last-minute startup. And it does its job well.

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We believe that Texas should trust UTSW with moreand trust private providers less. We should let UTSW’s scientists develop a centralized, data-driven response to the pandemic, which would ensure that Texans can get vaccinations, tests, masks and accurate information about when they’ve been exposed to the virus. Then Texans would be protected against the virus’s ravages — whatever their politics.

Jo Guldi is an associate professor of history at Southern Methodist University.

Macabe Kelliher is an assistant professor of history at SMU.

They wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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