AUSTIN (KXAN) — Until further notice, anyone who enters a long-term living facility — like nursing homes and assisted living facilities — has to have their temperature taken and be screened for COVID-19 symptoms every time they enter.
This comes as Austin Public Health works to place more restrictions on who can come into contact with large groups of elderly people, who are most at-risk for contracting coronavirus.
The new rule applies not only to visitors, but to doctors, nurses, volunteers and any new, incoming patients.
Facilities will have a grace period of a few days to get a plan together for who will operate the screenings and how they’ll secure their buildings so no one can make it in without one.
But after that, if any of the more than 300 of these types of facilities in Travis County are caught not doing screenings — Austin Public Health will impose penalties.
“Remember, people are going to have fevers from lots of different things,” says Dr. Mark Escott, the Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority. “Urinary infections, other types of infections. We don’t want people to panic in those circumstances. But if it’s a case that it’s not clear what’s causing it — it’s not flu, it’s not a urine infection — and we can’t identify it, that’s when we want to raise the alarm.”
APH says Austin-Travis County has about 70,000 people who are age 80 or older, so health officials are also looking into other places older populations congregate, like senior centers. Escott says restrictions may be placed upon those places in the coming days, as well.
Limited testing capabilities
On Wednesday, Escott also told KXAN that Austin Public Health does not have the capacity to send tests for everyone who could potentially have Coronavirus in Austin-Travis County, so it’s prioritizing certain cases.
Austin Public Health says the state lab that runs COVID-19 tests for Travis County and about 19 other counties can only test a maximum of 25 samples a day, at this point. Therefore, the lab cannot test everyone with symptoms.
Escott said for the time being, the only people health officials will test are those who are hospitalized with possible symptoms or people who are in the most vulnerable population for coronavirus — the elderly, especially those living in long-term care facilities with other elderly people.
“Those who are under the age of 50 or otherwise healthy, they’re going to be last on the list because we don’t have a treatment, we don’t have a vaccination to offer, and we expect that they’re going to have a mild course,” Escott said. “So they’re going to have to understand, we need the public to understand that we simply cannot test everyone at this stage.”
Austin Public Health will not say how many people in Austin-Travis County have been tested for COVID-19 so far, because the Texas Department of State Health Services isn’t allowing agencies to release those numbers.
Health officials say it’s important to remember, however, that as of Wednesday, all tests for patients in Austin-Travis County have come back negative, so far. Escott says if any test comes back positive, health officials will report that and give details about the patient.