Two new sites will help with mass testing needs. Photo by Getty Images

With the omicron variant showing no signs of slowing locally or nationally, the City of Houston’s health department has partnered with a major company to open two mega COVID-19 testing sites this week, both opening on Thursday, January 6.

Those near Greater Houston can look for a new mega testing site at the former Dave & Busters at 6010 Richmond Ave. Opened in partnership with Xpress COVID Testing, this new site will accommodate approximately 1,000 tests, per an announcement. January hours of operation are 9 am to 3:30 pm Mondays through Saturdays; appointments are not required.

Those outside Greater Houston to the north can look for a new site at the Kingwood Community Center (4102 Rustic Woods Dr.); its daily capacity is approximately 800 tests. January hours here are 9 am to 3:30 pm Mondays through Saturdays’ appointments are not required.

Meantime, existing mega testing sites are operating at the following locations:

Butler Stadium (13755 S Main St).
Hours are 8 am to 4 pm Mondays through Saturdays with no appointment required.

Delmar Stadium (2020 Mangum Rd.)
Hours are 8 am to 6 pm daily; appointments are required and can be made at appointments via Curative.com or by calling 1-888-702-9042.

Minute Maid Park
Minute Maid Park (Lot C, 510 St. Emanuel St.)
Hours are 8 am to 5 pm on Saturdays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays; noon to 8 pm on Thursdays and Fridays. Appointments are required at mycovidappoitment.com or by calling 833-213-0643.

More testing sites, schedules, and appointment information are available at HoustonHealth.org or by calling 832-393-4220.

“Every Houstonian deserves to have access to testing, especially those in our most vulnerable communities,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner in a statement. “As we continue to navigate this crisis, I ask Houstonians to keep each other safe by getting tested, vaccinated, and boosted. We need everyone doing their part to remain healthy and slow the virus from spreading in their homes and places of employment and houses of worship.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The new mega-site opens December 29. valentinrussanov/Getty Images

City of Houston announces massive new drive-through COVID testing site

new to hou

With COVID/omicron cases on the rise and Houston preparing for New Year’s Eve celebrations and travel, the City of Houston is expanding access to testing with a new drive-through mega site this week.

The site, which comes via the Houston Health Department and Curative, is located at Delmar Stadium, 2020 Mangum Rd., and opens 9 am Wednesday, December 29. Hours of operation run 8 am to 6 pm; the site promises to handle some 1,000 daily tests, according to a press release. Appointments are required at Curative.com or by calling 1-888-702-9042.

Importantly, the mega-site will be closed December 31 and January 1, 2022.

This means that at full capacity, the department’s network of Curative, United Memorial Medical Center, and multi-service center sites can provide approximately 27,000 daily tests.

Those interested can still visit HoustonHealth.org or call 832-393-4220 to find nearby free health department-affiliated testing sites and schedules.

Current Centers for Disease Control recommendations dictate that those who have symptoms and anyone who had close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period) with someone with confirmed COVID-19 should test for infection.

Testing and vaccination at health department-affiliated sites is free, and does not require proof of residency, citizenship, or insurance.

“As Omicron cases surge in Houston and across the country, I applaud people for getting tested before traveling, gathering with loved ones or returning to work,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner in a statement. “Testing and vaccination will help slow the virus spread and save lives. The increased demand for testing has led to longer than usual lines and wait times for some. The new site will help meet the demand and expand capacity for testing.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Luminostics, which was founded out of a lab at UH, received NIH grant to produce its COVID-19 rapid antigen test. Photo courtesy of Luminostics

University of Houston spinout's smartphone COVID-19 test to head to market

Pandemic innovation

A Silicon Valley startup with Houston roots is helping tackle the COVID-19 pandemic with its smartphone-based coronavirus test.

Milpitas, California-based Luminostics, a University of Houston spinout, is producing millions of its Clip COVID Rapid Antigen Test for U.S. consumers after receiving emergency authorization for the product in December. The emergency approval closely followed the National Institutes of Health awarding a $26.1 million contract to Luminostics to speed up development of the coronavirus test. According to a news release from UH, Luminostics is working on an affordable next generation hardware system to reach the mass over-the-counter market at scale.

Chemical engineers and UH alumni Bala Raja, the CEO, and Andrew Paterson, the chief technology officer, began forming their company in the UH lab of Richard Willson, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and professor of biochemical and biophysical sciences.

The technology developed in the UH lab aims to equip consumers with rapid self-diagnostic tests for the flu, HIV, herpes, and other conditions by detecting the presence of bacteria, viruses, small molecules, hormones, and proteins. But Raja and Paterson put that strategy on hold last year and pivoted to re-engineering their technology for COVID-19 testing. The result: the Clip COVID Rapid Antigen Test.

"When we realized that COVID wasn't just a bad flu and that it was actually gonna go crazy and affect as many people as it has, we decided that everything we've done could be very quickly repurposed to make two different tests," Raja told Inc. magazine in April.

UH alumni Andrew Paterson and Bala Raja are co-founders of Luminostics. Photo via UH.edu

As UH explains, the Clip COVID test relies on a nasal swab, a smartphone clip, and glow-in-the-dark nanoparticles to detect a coronavirus infection within 30 minutes. In the phone, an image processor measures the intensity of the luminescence signal. If the signal is strong enough, the result is positive. If it's weak, the result is negative.

"We live in a world where you can have all your basic necessities delivered to your home through an app, and yet this pandemic has exposed how far behind the diagnostics industry lags compared to consumer technology and the convenience economy," Paterson tells UH.

Funding from the National Institutes of Health, venture capital firm Khosla Ventures, investment firm Lynette Capital, and startup accelerator Y Combinator has helped support the Clip COVID Rapid Antigen Test. The startup entered the Y Combinator program in 2016, a year after Raja and Paterson established Luminostics.

In April 2020, French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi said it was exploring a collaboration with Luminostics on the COVID-19 test.

"The diagnostics industry is saturated with products that cater to big, centralized labs or testing in the doctor's office," Paterson says. "There are many applications where it does make sense to do testing in a centralized lab, but there are dozens of other applications where there should be home-tests and there are not, because few companies have tried to take on the technical and regulatory challenges with developing home-testing."

A Houston entrepreneur created a free smartphone app to easily track and share COVID-19 testing results. Photo courtesy of SafeFun

Houston tech-turned-hospitality entrepreneur launches global health passport

there's an app for that

The pandemic brought Houston hospitality entrepreneur Carson Hager — a self-described "recovering programmer" — back to his roots in an attempt to help people gather together once more.

After 20 years in the tech world — he sold his consumer-grade commercial software company Cynergy Systems to KPMG in 2014 —Hager founded the Hospitable Viking, known for popular local bars like Rosemont in Montrose and Cherry downtown.

"It gives me some chaos," he says of his new industry. "It's something to do that's a very different challenge."

But the pandemic added a new challenge and even more chaos in his industry. As restrictions were put in place in the spring of 2020 and many (including Hager himself) didn't feel comfortable dining and drinking in public, he watched as many in his industry lost their jobs, businesses, and sense of community.

"I live in restaurants and bars and I wouldn't have gone anywhere at that point," Hager says. "I was thinking, what's it going to take for people to be able to feel comfortable to go back out again and go out to bars and restaurants, gyms, salons, club, etcetera."

In April 2020, he decided to act. And with the help of a few programmer friends pulling long hours for about 100 days straight, Hager created SafeFun, a Houston-based digital health passport that allows users to voluntarily and easily share COVID-19 test results and information.

The free app extracts and analyzes PDF test results from a variety of COVID-19 tests including molecular/diagnostic, antigen and antibody tests. SafeFun then validates the test against records from 100 partnering testing centers, including the likes of Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart, to ensure that the results are credible and summarizes the information for users to easily share through the app or in person.

After completing the build out in September 2020, Hager and his small team of four approached various city governments with the hopes of having them come on board as partners and support using the app for business purposes. However, what they found was that users were more interested in using SafeFun for personal reasons.

After a few more weeks of programming, Hager and team released the consumer-facing version in late 2020. Currently SafeFun has about 12,000 users around the world, according to Hager. Today it's mainly used ahead of a small gathering with friends, when visiting family, or to date.

SafeFun also has the capability to process and analyze proof of vaccine and other tests for infectious diseases. However, the current road block in the COVID realm is that in the U.S. most vaccine providers do not provide digital for PDF documentation.

Still, Hager envisions various potential uses for SafeFun in the future: for cruises, air travel, and even STD testing. Or, as Hager says, "God forbid, future pandemics."

Results are generally ready within 30 minutes. Photo courtesy of CVS Health

4 Houston-area CVS locations now offering free COVID-19 rapid tests

COVID-19 NEWS

Flu season and cedar fever compounded with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is likely to make for a worrisome winter. In an effort to make testing for the novel coronavirus more accessible, CVS is launching rapid-result tests in 21 stores across the state, including four in Houston.

The Rhode Island-based health company announced its COVID-19 testing expansion on October 28, adding that it hopes to offer the service at 1,000 clinics nationwide by the end of the year.

In the Greater Houston area, COVID-19 rapid-result tests are available at the following CVS stores beginning this week:

  • 1410 Crabb River Rd. in Richmond
  • 3505 Center St. in Deer Park
  • 2232 Repsdorph Rd. in Seabrook
  • 23865 FM 1314 in Porter

Test results are usually available within 30 minutes. Rapid-result COVID-19 tests are available at no cost to patients who meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria, for those with private insurance, or those insured by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, notes a release. Read more about testing costs here.

Patients must register in advance at CVS.com in order to obtain a rapid-result test. Tests are also available for patients ages 12-17, but they must have a parent or guardian fill out the testing information. Children under 15 must be accompanied by an adult to the testing site.

Once at the site, patients should remain in their vehicle and proceed to a designated site located in the parking lot. In rare occasions, the test will take place inside the store, so follow signage and instructions.

"Access to rapid-result tests enables us to help minimize community spread of COVID-19 by being able to more quickly identify active COVID-19 infection," says Dr. David Fairchild, chief medical officer at MinuteClinic, in a news release. "In addition, we can test and treat symptomatic patients who test negative for COVID-19 for seasonal illnesses such as flu or strep and provide appropriate treatment and care."

Earlier this year, CVS expanded its COVID-19 response with drive-thru service in 33 states across the U.S., including Texas. The company's latest offering comes amid a nationwide spike in coronavirus cases, including 500,000 new cases in the last week alone. As of October 26, Texas had more than 874,000 confirmed cases and 17,595 deaths.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Innovative coastline project on Bolivar Peninsula receives federal funding

flood mitigation

The Galveston’s Coastal Barrier Project recently received federal funding to the tune of $500,000 to support construction on its flood mitigation plans for the area previously devastated by Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Known as Ike Dike, the proposed project includes implementing the Galveston Bay Storm Surge Barrier System, including eight Gulf and Bay defense projects. The Bolivar Roads Gate System, a two-mile-long closure structure situated between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula, is included in the plans and would protect against storm surge volumes entering the bay.

The funding support comes from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and will go toward the preconstruction engineering and design phase of Ecosystem Restoration feature G-28, the first segment of the Bolivar Peninsula and West Bay Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Shoreline and Island Protection.

Coastal Barrier Project - Galveston Projects

The project also includes protection of critical fish and wildlife habitat against coastal storms and erosion.

“The Coastal Texas Project is one of the largest projects in the history of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” says Col. Rhett A. Blackmon, USACE Galveston District commander, in a statement. “This project is important to the nation for many reasons. Not only will it reduce risk to the vulnerable populations along the Texas coast, but it will also protect vital ecosystems and economically critical infrastructure vital to the U.S. supply chain and the many global industries located here.”

Hurricane Ike resulted in over $30 billion in storm-related damages to the Texas coast, reports the Coastal Barrier Project, and created a debris line 15 feet tall and 40 miles long in Chambers County. The estimated economic disruption due to Hurricane Ike exceeded $150 billion, FEMA reported.

The project is estimated to take two years to complete after construction starts and will cost between $4 billion and $6 billion, reports Texas A&M University at Galveston.

Houston organization selects research on future foods in space health to receive $1M in funding

research and development

What would we eat if we were forced to decamp to another planet? The most immediate challenges faced by the food industry and astronauts exploring outside Earth are being addressed by The Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Space Medicine’s newest project.

Earlier this month, TRISH announced the initial selection for its Space Health Ingress Program (SHIP) solicitation. Working with California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Baylor-based program chose “Future Foods for Space: Mobilizing the Future Foods Community to Accelerate Advances in Space Health,” led by Dr. Denneal Jamison-McClung at the University of California, Davis.

“TRISH is bringing in new ideas and investigators to propel space health research,” says Catherine Domingo, TRISH operations lead and research administration associate at Baylor College of Medicine, in the release. “We have long believed that new researchers with fresh perspectives drive innovation and advance human space exploration and SHIP builds on TRISH’s existing efforts to recruit and support new investigators in the space health research field, potentially yielding and high-impact ideas to protect space explorers.”

The goal of the project is to develop sustainable food products and ingredients that could fuel future space travelers on long-term voyages, or even habitation beyond our home planet.

Jamison-McClung and her team’s goal is to enact food-related space health research and inspire the community thereof by mobilizing academic and food-industry researchers who have not previously engaged with the realm of space exploration. Besides growing and developing food products, the project will also address production, storage, and delivery of the nutrition created by the team.

To that end, Jamison-McClung and her recruits will receive $1 million over the course of two years. The goal of the SHIP solicitation is to work with first-time NASA investigators, bringing new minds to the forefront of the space health research world.

“As we look to enable safer space exploration and habitation for humans, it is clear that food and nutrition are foundational,” says Dr. Asha S. Collins, chair of the SHIP advisory board, in a press release. “We’re excited to see how accelerating innovation in food science for space health could also result in food-related innovations for people on Earth in remote areas and food deserts.”

Clean energy nonprofit CEO to step down, search for replacement to begin

moving on

Greentown Labs, which is co-located in the Boston and Houston areas, has announced its current CEO is stepping down after less than a year in the position.

The nonprofit's CEO and President Kevin Knobloch announced that he will be stepping down at the end of July 2024. Knobloch assumed his role last September, previously serving as chief of staff of the United States Department of Energy in President Barack Obama’s second term.

“It has been an honor to lead this incredible team and organization, and a true privilege to get to know many of our brilliant startup founders," Knobloch says in the news release. “Greentown is a proven leader in supporting early-stage climatetech companies and I can’t wait to see all that it will accomplish in the coming years.”

The news of Knobloch's departure comes just over a month after the organization announced that it was eliminating 30 percent of its staff, which affected 12 roles in Boston and six in Houston.

According the Greentown, its board of directors is expected to launch a national search for its next CEO.

“On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, I want to thank Kevin for his efforts to strengthen the foundation of Greentown Labs and for charting the next chapter for the organization through a strategic refresh process,” says Dawn James, Greentown Labs Board Chair, in the release. “His thoughtful leadership will leave a lasting impact on the team and community for years to come.”

Knobloch reportedly shifted Greentown's sponsorship relationships with oil companies, sparking "friction within the organization," according to the Houston Chronicle, which also reported that Knobloch said he intends to return to his clean energy consulting firm.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.