Austin launches targeted COVID-19 testing strategy for at-risk populations


Austin-Travis County COVID-19 testing site for Austin Public Health (PHOTO: City of Austin)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health is launching a targeted COVID-19 testing strategy for potentially vulnerable populations in Austin-Travis County.

The two key vulnerable groups identified by APH are residents of nursing homes and communities of color. APH has also created a testing group to oversee all Austin-Travis County testing efforts.

APH numbers show that 30% of nursing home residents who contract COVID-19 end up in the hospital – compared with 15% of COVID-19 patients among the general population. The fatality rate for nursing home residents is 22% — compared with 1.7% for the general population.

Austin Public Health data on case fatality rates, comparing the rates for those in nursing homes and those not in nursing homes in Austin-Travis County. Graph from APH slide from June 2, 2020.

According to APH, with nursing home cases removed, the preliminary data shows the rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations in March-April 2020 was 12% for White Non-Hispanic individuals, 17% for LatinX individuals, and 18% for African American individuals.

The COVID-19 fatality rate was 1.9% for White Non-Hispanic individuals, 1.6% for LatinX individuals, and 5.4% for African-American individuals.

Data on race and ethnicity in COVID-19 hospitalization and case fatality rates in Austin-Travis County. Graph from APH slide on June 2, 2020.

“The trends we see here are very very concerning,” said Austin’s Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott. “They suggest our African American population, in particular, has a higher rate of hospitalization and a higher rate of death.”

Escott noted that with the numbers APH has now, they can’t tell with scientific certainty that there are differences in the rates of deaths in these demographics. “However, we cannot wait for scientific certainty to act,” he said.

APH data on COVID-19 hospitalizations in Austin-Travis County (APH)

Out of all the new hospitalizations in Austin-Travis County related to COVID-19, 70% are for Hispanic individuals, which is more than double the percentage of Hispanics in the Austin-Travis County population. Dr. Mark Escott with APD calls this continued trend “a substantial concern.”

On Saturday, June 13, the City is planning a forum to discuss ways to improve COVID-19 outcomes in the area’s most vulnerable populations. More information on the conversation will be available in the coming days, the city says.

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