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Dallas program offering free COVID-19 tests got off to a slow start. Here’s how to get one

The program was intended to help those who lack transportation in the southern and southeastern parts of the city, but now it’s expanding.

A city-funded program meant to deliver 60 free coronavirus tests a day to some of Dallas’ most vulnerable residents has had a slow start since Friday, when mobile units conducting the tests were first deployed.

And now officials are trying to increase awareness about the free testing.

Appointments have trickled in but haven’t come close to the limit of 60 tests a day that the city hopes to administer, said Dr. Nilesh Nangrani, founder and CEO of UrgentCare2Go.

The Dallas City Council approved a $660,000 contract with the Farmers Branch company last week to provide testing in ZIP codes 75211, 75215, 75216, 75217 and 75227. The plan was to administer tests to underserved communities where residents lack transportation.

“It doesn’t seem people are very aware of the program,” Nangrani said, adding that his office has been promoting the tests on social media. Founded in 2016, UrgentCare2Go is a medical service that provides house calls around Dallas.

About 50 appointments had been scheduled and 34 tests were conducted between Friday and Tuesday afternoon, according to a city spokeswoman. Patients have been between ages 60 and 69 and most have identified as black or Hispanic. Those 65 and older are at high risk for severe conditions from COVID-19.

The program’s original focus was to target ZIP codes in south and southeast Dallas that have seen spikes of COVID-19 and where some residents lack access to transportation.

Nangrani said he spoke with city officials Monday about the lack of appointments and they approved expanding the mobile testing to the rest of the city. Residents without the ability to get tested at the drive-through testing sites at American Airlines Center and Ellis Davis Field House would take priority.

Roxana Rubio, a city spokeswoman, said officials decided to expand testing because they wanted to make sure that all resources were being utilized and that the city could deliver as many tests as possible.

Rubio added that officials still want to focus resources on communities the program was originally intended to target.

“If demand were to exceed the capacity of the mobile testing, the targeted ZIP codes will be scheduled before others,” Rubio added.

The city is also working to increase awareness of the free testing via phone calls to target ZIP codes, radio spots, social media and community groups, she said.

To comply with the city contract, Nangrani said UrgentCare2Go has hired about 15 more medical assistants to deploy throughout the city.

He added that the company has the capacity to do between 100 to 150 tests every day but will conduct 60 unless city officials say more should be done.

Charlee McHale checked a mobile COVID testing kit at UrgentCare2Go in Farmers Branch on May 19.
Charlee McHale checked a mobile COVID testing kit at UrgentCare2Go in Farmers Branch on May 19.(Jason Janik / Special Contributor)

Getting a free test

City residents can schedule an appointment by going to cityofdallasmobiletesting.com or calling 1-888-601-0568. Appointments are available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.

Potential patients can get a visit from a mobile testing unit if they live within city limits and have come in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or are experiencing one of the following symptoms:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • A temperature of 99.6 degrees Fahrenheit or higher

Tests may be administered outside a home or inside if the patient is bedridden, said Charlee McHale, UrgentCare2Go’s office manager, who has been in charge of training all mobile units.

The company’s medical assistants have been trained to wear full protective equipment, including gloves, goggles, masks and medical gowns, McHale said. Reusable equipment is disinfected between visits and at the end of every day.

She added that none of the service’s workers has tested positive for COVID-19.

“We’re trying to keep everybody safe, and that includes patients and our medical assistants,” McHale said.

Obed Manuel, Staff Writer. Obed has called Dallas home, Oak Cliff specifically, since 1996. Obed covers immigration, local news, politics, social justice and the issues affecting second generation Hispanic immigrants in North Texas. He is a graduate of the University of North Texas in Denton.

obed.manuel@dallasnews.com obedmanuel
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