AUSTIN (KXAN) — Free COVID-19 tests are now available without an appointment through Friday evening at the Long Center, but be prepared to wait.
Nomi Health is hosting a drive-thru, popup testing site at the Long Center, located at 701 W. Riverside Dr. every day this week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The company said test results will be available within 15 minutes via text message directly to the patient for antigen tests and 24 to 48 hours for PCR tests.
The line to get a test started forming at 5 a.m., three hours before the clinic is scheduled to open. By 6 a.m., KXAN reporter Candy Rodriguez counted about 20 cars were already in line.
Originally, organizers had planned to host the site for just Monday and Tuesday but said they decided to extend due to massive demand they saw on Monday. They estimate testing about 500 people.
“Just out of nowhere, this has happened,” said Nomi Health cofounder Boe Hartman. He said the spike in Texas for testing happened in the last 24 hours.
Results, so far
A spokesperson for Nomi Health said of the roughly 500 tests administered on Monday, most were antigen.
Jennie Whitaker said 28% of antigen tests came back positive for COVID-19, “a lot higher than we’ve seen previously,” she said.
Of the positive patients, Whitaker said 92% had symptoms, and 79% were vaccinated.
Whitaker said the company doubled its normal number of tests across Texas on Monday.
Long wait times in line
The line was already long at 9:30 a.m., 30 minutes before the clinic opened, and several cars remained after the cutoff at 6 p.m., with organizers having to tell people to come back in the morning.
Jacqueline Vaca was still in line after 6 p.m. and said she’d been waiting since 2 p.m.
“I just want to have some peace of mind to go ahead and make sure that, you know, if I do want to go ahead and socialize again with my friends here in Austin, that they’re safe, and I’m safe, as well,” said Vaca, who had gotten there on the heels of a road trip for the holidays.
“We’ve been on the road since like 7:40 in the morning. Got home, dropped off everything, found out that the Long Center had this testing … so, we decided to come,” Vaca said.
Hartman said before the holidays, folks at their testing sites across 15 states generally wanted to get tested to travel.
“Today, it’s been slightly different: ‘I want to travel home, I want to go back to work,'” he said.
Hartman said their crew hadn’t taken a break all day, and they’ll be doubling staffing starting Tuesday. They’re also going car to car to pre-register folks.
“So by the time you get up and scan your QR code, it’s about two to three minutes to get your test, and then you’re on your way,” Hartman said.
For Vaca, the wait will hopefully be worth the peace of mind.
“It’s been a very lengthy process, but I understand, you know, like, it was no registration,” Vaca said. “We knew what we were going into.”
The company said no one will be turned away based on insurance coverage, but those with health insurance should bring their card and provide that information.
The popup clinic is another option for people to get tested for COVID-19 while many pharmacies are booked up and don’t have at-home tests available as the omicron variant sweeps through the area. Austin Public Health reports the community transmission rate has ballooned to 173.5 infections per 100,000 people, and the positivity rate is up to 8.9%, pending an update Monday with information reported over the Christmas holiday.