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Covered from head to toe in personal protective equipment, Anwar Contreras and Anny Celestine with TLC Pharmacy have been sweating in the South Texas heat daily, doling out tests for COVID-19.
TLC Pharmacy, located at 1242 E. Business Highway 83 in Mission, has been testing residents of the Rio Grande Valley for the coronavirus since the beginning of April this year. The pandemic has made curbside testing necessary for whoever needs it, according to TLC Pharmacist and owner Alberto Vela.
“The last couple of weeks it’s picked up, especially last week,” Vela said on the rate at which people were stopping for tests. “They’ve [Contreras and Celestine] been doing a great job.”
At the beginning of March this year, Vela himself tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a concert in Houston. Following a full recovery, Vela began offering blood and nasal tests for symptomatic people, and Contreras and Celestine stepped up to the plate to administer tests.
“Our lab only takes two days to get you your results, so a lot of the doctors are just sending people this way because some of their labs are out of state,” Vela said, noting their lab is based out of San Antonio so results arrive sooner. “It’s great for the community, because they can come in and get checked and get some treatment.”
Vela said recently there have been some positive tests from TLC Pharmacy. So far, they have tested 150 people by blood and 50 by nasal swabs.
“Since the doctors usually send them over, they become aware and start treating these patients,” Vela said. “We’re always out to help the community and help our clients, so we thought this was something we could do to make it easier for people.”
The pharmacist said that working on their feet all day, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. when testing is offered, is hard work for Contreras and Celestine. They weren’t thrilled about the heat, but a tent was set up out front, and they feel the need to continue.
“They’ve really taken it to another level,” Vela said.
With Hidalgo County reporting positive tests daily, some days numbering over 30 or 40 positive cases, the COVID-19 pandemic is still present in the Valley.
“It doesn’t seem to be going away, and now that the state is opening, you’re going to see more positive results because people are interacting with each other more,” Vela said. “We want to say ‘use your masks’ and do these things, but sometimes they don’t do it, so the barriers are not there to keep everyone safe. If you do feel bad, it’s best to get treated or at least get checked so you can get treated fast.”
Contreras, a pharmacy technician at TLC Pharmacy, said it was a relief to see so many people stopping by for tests.
“You want to really make sure so that if you have it, you can be responsible and quarantine yourself,” Contreras said. “Or, if you don’t have it, you can also be responsible and wash your hands and still practice social distancing. Especially now with everything that’s going on, people forget that there’s still a virus that’s going on.”
Celestine, a clerk at TLC, typically handles a lot of the tasks required at the pharmacy and felt the need to help Contreras administer tests.
“He [Contreras] needed help, and nobody wanted to help him,” Celestine said. “So I said I would.”
Those interested in being tested for COVID-19 at TLC Pharmacy should park out front and wait in their vehicles for assistance. Vela noted anyone can be tested.
“The blood test is a cash test, and anybody can come in, and once you get a positive on the blood then we do require a prescription,” Vela said. “We have PAs [Physician Assistants] on call that will do a telephonic check on a patient and write a script for them, or their physician will.”
Tests are sent to the lab at 5 p.m. every day, and the complete results come back to the doctor in two days. The blood tests are $25, and the nasal tests are covered fully by insurance.
“We’re not trying to cash in on it,” Vela said. “We’re just trying to do it as a service.”
When parking in front of TLC Pharmacy, there is a sign indicating for people to call their number if they’re there for a test, and the testing will be conducted curbside.
“There’s no need to call ahead, we’ll take you as you come in,” Vela said. “As long as we’re open, we’re going to take care of you.”