Not enough resources for widespread testing at Austin construction sites, health officials say

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) —Austin is planning to create a testing strategy for construction sites — but the resources aren’t available right now.

BACKGROUND:

Construction has largely continued during the pandemic due to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order in late-March.

Austin Public Health said it has tracked 19 clusters to construction work this month, highlighting fears that these workers and their families would be more vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19.

A cluster is defined as three or more cases.

Data from Tuesday’s presentation to Austin City Council say the cases are tied to contractors and subcontractors of different trades.

Council Member Pio Renteria asked staff if the city has the capacity to test all employees at construction sites.

APH Director Stephanie Hayden responded by saying the city would only do widespread testing at a construction site after a cluster is identified.

She mentioned meeting the testing needs at nursing homes, requests from jails and mobile testing as other priorities.

“We have so many priorities and we don’t have enough people to be able to do all of that testing, or the testing kits to be able to do it,” said Hayden.

On Monday, KXAN reported on Central Health’s outreach efforts to encourage testing and prevention in the construction industry.

CommUnityCare says a large number of construction workers have gotten tested at its walk-up clinics.

“I can tell you that there was one construction company with whom we tested 48 individuals and we had 26 positives,” said Alan Schalscha, Chief Medical Officer of CommUnityCare Health Centers.

Earlier this month, Austin purchased 20,000 COVID-19 test kits from the American Institute of Toxicology. The city spent $1.2 million.

An APH spokesperson tells us the city has “not purchased more [tests] but have received more through the State and our partners.”

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