AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health is working to expand COVID-19 testing capacity as the demand for free testing explodes parallel to the rapid spread of the omicron variant.

APH and Travis County gave out free at home test kits at community centers and food distribution sites leading up to the holidays but quickly ran out of those tests. Leaders say they’re working to get more at home tests to pass out at community centers, food distribution sites and through community partners.

APH leaders also announced in a media Q&A Friday that they’re working to expand their static site testing sites.

“We’re working to gather resources to be able to expand our capacity to be able to give up to 1,000 additional tests per day in our community,” said Adrienne Sturrup, the interim APH director.

A spokesperson for APH said they have made several requests for at home tests but do not have an estimated time of arrival for those. The expansion of testing sites should begin this week, they said.

COVID-19 testing has been hard to find in the Austin-area around the holidays as so many people experience symptoms of COVID-19. Roughly one in three tests are coming back positive in Travis County right now.

Austin-Travis County is in Stage 5 risk-based guidelines right now, the most restrictive tier. Those guidelines recommend everyone who is out in public wear a mask regardless of vaccination status.

As of Thursday, there are 127 people in area-ICUs with COVID-19, 63 people are on a ventilator. Over the last 7 days more than 6,000 people in Austin-Travis County tested positive for the virus, according to Austin’s COVID-19 staging dashboard.

Dr. Desmar Walkes, the Austin-Travis County health authority, said they’re seeing roughly 20% of people who show up to the hospital with COVID-19 end up in the ICU.

“This is a little different from other surges in that it’s evolving and unfolding more rapidly but we’re still seeing the need for ICU beds,” Walkes said. “If you look at the setting now, we have less ICU bed capacity because we have less staff so this is a much different situation because of our staffing challenges.”

Austin’s community transmission rate (CTR), which is the number of people testing positive per 100,000 people, is at 1,233, which is high. That rate is just a hair lower than the CTR for the state of Texas.

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