AUSTIN (KXAN) — As federal leaders and local governments warn of the ways in which COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color, Travis County’s Healthcare District (Central Health) is putting more resources into the county’s Eastern Crescent in an effort to curb those disparities locally. The first of these changes at the CommUnityCare Health Centers, which are funded by Central Health, will begin Wednesday.

In a newsletter sent out by Central Health, the health district announced:

  • CommUnityCare’s Hornsby Bend Health Center re-opened April 15 and resumed regular clinic hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
  • CommUnityCare’s Del Valle Health Center will re-open April 20 with modified hours, from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.
  • CommUnityCare plans to re-open health centers in Manor and Community First! Village (which offers permanent supportive housing for people exiting chronic homelessness) after the Del Valle Center is open.

CommUnityCare opted to close some of its clinics and temporarily consolidate clinic options on March 23 as a result of a shortage of personal protective equipment for clinic staff. Since that time, CommUnityCare moved nearly 75% of its medical appointments to telemedicine to limit unnecessary in-person interaction, which helped to conserve protective equipment.

“Temporarily closing some of our smaller clinics was an incredibly difficult decision, but it was the responsible thing to do to conserve personal protective equipment (PPE) and support a safe environment for our patients and staff,” said CommUnityCare President & CEO Jaeson Fournier in a release. “The good news is that through our conservation efforts, consolidated services, and procuring additional PPE through commercial suppliers and community partners, the situation has stabilized, which means we’re able to re-open some clinics.”

Central Health said that CommUnityCare will keep opening more clinics as long as there are available staff members and enough protective equipment to do so. The Health District will also be expanding COVID-19 screening and testing options in Eastern Travis County.

Additional COVID-19 testing sites

  • Drive-up testing will be offered Monday through Friday on a rotating basis in communities like Manor, Colony Park, Austin’s Colony/Hornsby Bend, Del Valle, and Dove Springs.
  • CommUnityCare plans to begin testing from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, April 16, in Del Valle at Southeast Metropolitan Park and Friday, April 17, at Barbara Jordan Elementary School in Colony Park.
  • CommUnityCare is working to find locations to do this testing that are conveniently located and have lots of parking and electricity.
  • CommUnityCare does not require an appointment, insurance, or payment for testing.
  • Drive-up testing sites will rely on the availability of test kits (Austin Public Health has said that while testing availability has increased, there are still not enough tests to meet the demand locally).
  • CommUnityCare’s drive-up testing site at Hancock Center at 41st and IH35 will remain open six days a week. A more complete schedule of drive-up testing locations will be released as additional sites are secured.
  • For information about testing, call CommUnityCare’s COVID-19 Hotline at 512-978-8775.

Drive-up testing locations

  • CommUnityCare Del Valle Drive-Up Testing Del Valle at Southeast Metropolitan Park 4511 SH-71 W, Del Valle, TX 78617 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Thursday
  • CommUnityCare Colony Park Drive-Up Testing Barbara Jordan Elementary School 6711 Johnny Morris Rd., Austin, TX 78724 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Friday
  • CommUnityCare Hancock Drive-Up Testing 1000 E 41st Street Ste: 925, Austin, TX 78751 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Saturday

At these testing sites, medical experts will first screen every patient for COVID-19 symptoms. In the interest in conserving the limited number of COVID-19 tests available, CommUnityCare asks that only those who are ill or think they may have COVID-19 go to testing sites.

CommUnity Care CEO Jaeson Fournier explained that at these rotating testing sites, there will be a dedicated team that uses the CommUnityCare/ Central Helath mobile medical unit, which he describes as “basically an RV with two exam rooms.”

If the people who drop by testing sites meet certain criteria, like having a fever, a cough, or difficulty breathing, they will be given a test there. Each site has a limited number of tests available per day

The RV will have refrigeration available to keep the tests in, Fournier explained. He said that people will be able to walk up or drive up to the van and get tested there. The flexibility of a mobile unit will allow the CommUnityCare clinic to test at a variety of places like Manor Senior High School and Barbara Jordan Middle School.

“Our commitment is to do this as long as necessary, pending our ability to make sure we have adequate supplies of testing and testing kits and the personal protective equipment,” Fournier said.

“And if we find that there’s more demand, we’re going to ask our partners in the community to help out. we can’t always do this stuff alone,” he added. so if there’s demand in the community, I think what we need to do is make sure that we’re getting as much testing as the community needs and warrants, and if we’re not meeting that need we’re going to have to adjust and figure out how best we do that

Addressing health care disparities

The newsletter sent out by Central Health acknowledges reports from other areas of the country showing that people of color and specifically African Americans are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

While the breakdown of COVID-19 cases in Austin-Travis County by race largely aligns with the region’s demographics at this point, Central Texas said it is “working with the Austin-Travis County Emergency Operation Center to ensure that our response to COVID-19 addresses racial disparities.”

Central Health went on to say that through working with their clinical providers, they are trying to reach communities of color and people with underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to the novel coronavirus.

Central Health linked to a report by UT Health Science Center Houston uploaded by KXAN. The report is based on the prevalence of several underlying risk factors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( including heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), current batsman, diabetes, kidney disease, and obesity).

Map and data from Mapping the Areas at Highest Risk of Severe COVID19 in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio study from UTHealth School of Public Health, Institute for Health Policy

KXAN covered that report which showed that The data revealed portions of north and east Austin, (primarily in East Austin, east of Interstate 35 and north of State Highway 71, and in north Austin, north of U.S. Highway 290 and east of the MoPac Expressway) where higher poverty levels are also reported, could see the most severe cases of COVID-19.

Austin City Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, whose district is in East Austin, told KXAN that this action by CommUnityCare and Central Health, “is a very reassuring development and a step towards the kind of health equity East Austin must have in order to avoid COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on African-Americans, the Latinx community, and low-income residents. “

“The protection of the people who are most vulnerable to this disease should be our top priority,” Harper-Madison Continued. “That not only means securing more resources right now, but also finally confronting and fixing the festering systemic and structural conditions that have made these groups so vulnerable in the first place.”

Outreach to the Eastern Crescent

Central Health said it has also been trying to reach community members in the Eastern Crescent who may be most vulnerable during this time.

Outreach by Central Health to communities in response to COVID-19. Graphic by Central Health.

The health district said it has contacted 500 people via text, made 602 calls (271 people reached), worked with congregations at twelve faith-based canters, communicated to 114 Facebook groups, and direct mailed 60,000 families living in low-income zip codes with a history of racial inequality.

Additionally, the health district has been hosting weekly virtual community conversations in English in Spanish.

“Your feedback and advocacy boost our outreach efforts to reach people and communities most susceptible to COVID-19 complications,” said Central Health CEO and president Mike Geeslin in the newsletter. “For Travis County, it’s communities of color, those living in poverty with a history of under-resourcing that are most susceptible.”

CommUnityCare staff at North Central wearing history of racial inequity. face shields donated by Sunshades Tint & Sound. Image Courtesy Central Health report April 14 2020.