State, county change provider for free COVID-19 tests

By Jerrie Whiteley
Herald Democrat
Vehicles line up for free COVID-19 tests in the parking lot of Midway Mall after the testing center moved from the Health Department to the larger parking lot in fall 2020.

The county will be changing the provider for the free county sponsored COVID-19 tests that have been going on at Midway Mall in Sherman. The state's vendor contract with WellHealth, also known as GoGetTested, was not renewed and will end on Saturday.

 The county was advised that the new vendor, DOCs, will set up similarly at the mall, GC Office of Emergency Management Director Sarah Somers said Tuesday. The start date will be Feb. 3 at 9 a.m. and then continue operations 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

"The bottom line, and I'll just say this, is we had some complaints," Grayson County Judge Bill Magers said during commissioner's court Tuesday about the change in testing providers. "And, I wasn't happy with what they over promised and under delivered, and so after a number of times of trying to move forward with that, it didn't work out, so we're going to switch horses."

Magers said they are also working on expanding testing and the county should have more information coming in the future. Registration and other information about the new COVID-19 test vendor will be on the county website and social media when it becomes available. 

There are other places to get the tests if anyone needs one while the big testing site at Midway Mall is closed. That includes Advanced Laboratory Services, 500 E. Peyton Street in Sherman.

Cars line up for COVID-19 testing at Austin College in this file photo from earlier this fall

"They've been a terrific local resource for testing," Somers said.

As far as the actual vaccines available in the county, both Magers and Somers said they are in short supply locally. 

"The websites at the state (level) are not being updated properly," Magers said. Somers agreed they state website's information not accurate in real time as to the vaccines allocated, received, administered or available.

Magers said the best bet for those who are wanting to get the vaccine is to sign up on as many waiting lists as they can. Then when one gets the vaccine, they can simply respond with that information if they are called by another provider with a place on their list.

"Do not rely on the government. Do not rely on the government. Get on the Walgreen's list, get on the Kroger list ... get on any list you can." Magers said. 

Somers said, the best advice is "to get on the county's wait list, but also get on any available (list)  through your doctor or retail pharmacy."

Magers said the county has been lucky in that it has received more of the Pfizer vaccine because the conditions under which it must be kept and mixed are more stringent and some other locations don't want it. Luckily, Texoma Medical Center is able to handle those requirements for the Pfizer vaccine and partnered with the county to help get that vaccine out to as many people as possible.

Magers emphasized the county anticipates it will vaccinate about 2,000 people this week.

Donna Glenn, Texoma Medical Center director of infection prevention and emergency preparedness, receives the first vaccine dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Thursday afternoon. The hospital has started administering the vaccine to front-line healthcare workers per direction by the CDC and Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

"We figure about 500 a day," he said but added there were about 8,000 people on the county waiting list.

"There is going to be a shortage of vaccine," he said.

Magers said he added that he has been asked why the bigger counties get more vaccine?

"Well the bigger counties get more vaccine because they've got more people and they have frankly more state representation. I know politics has shouldn't have anything to do with that deal but that's the way its working. They have hubs. Grayson County, for a county of our size, is really doing a great job. "

However, he said, those who have access to a primary care provider who has the vaccine should go ahead and go that route if possible. 

Somers said there were 63 providers who signed up to administer vaccines in Grayson County. "Only 15 of those providers have received any. The largest amounts have gone to Texoma Medical Center which is why we have partnered (with TMC) for our joint clinics."

Grayson County Health Authority Dr. Jerry Bennett vaccinates Ashlea Allen Wednesday at the clinic at Sherman's old high school.

Grayson County Health Department Director Amanda Ortez said last week it is important that people keep up with which vaccine they got so if they get a call and they are suppose to take a second shot, they know which company made the first shot and they get the correct follow up care for that. 

Grayson County Judge Bill Magers Tuesday discussed the county's change in COVID-19 testing providers and vaccine availability.