A call center and testing location for COVID-19 opened Wednesday in Nacogdoches County, a collaborative effort designed to help keep potential cases out of local hospitals and doctors’ offices.

Sick patients anxious that their symptoms might be COVID-19 are currently overwhelming emergency rooms, says Dr. David Duke of the Nacogdoches Area Physicians’ Association.

“Please don’t go to the emergency room,” says Duke, who willingly dons protective gear to conduct exams in sick patients’ vehicles. “If you’re sick, call your doctor, especially if you have a cold. Forty percent of the doctors in the county have tele-health capability.”

The newly opened COVID-19 call center is available for those who have symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath, or feel they have been exposed to the virus. The call center and testing site were modeled after facilities in Angelina County, says Amy Mehaffey, city communications director and spokesperson for the Emergency Operations Center, a collaboration among the city, county, local hospitals and SFA.

“It’s a way to keep people out of doctor’s offices and hospitals, and they can still be tested,” she said.

The location of the testing site is not being disclosed, she said, to protect patient privacy. All testing is scheduled through the call center, and no walk-in testing is conducted, she said.

The call center opened Wednesday at 936-468-4787, and hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Health care providers are urging patients with fever and respiratory symptoms to call instead of visiting the emergency room or doctor’s offices. Callers who meet testing criteria will be directed to the mobile testing site with an assigned ID number. Testing will be done in the patient’s vehicle by a clinical professional wearing personal protective equipment, according to the Emergency Operations Center.

For those needing help outside call center hours or who can’t get through, a 24-hour patient hotline has been set up at 214-964-0319. A screening and informational website is located at catalysthealthnetwork.com/coronavirus.

Though planned for weeks, the opening of the call center and testing site coincided with the first COVID-19 case in Nacogdoches County on Wednesday morning.

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