Austin-area sees an increase in COVID-19 test sites and test kits available


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin- area is beginning to receive more kits to test for the virus that causes COVID-19 and is starting to bring more locations for COVID-19 testing online.

As COVID-19 has spread across the U.S. in the past few weeks, regions have seen delays in and confusion surrounding access to these tests, with federal leaders acknowledging the lack of test kits to meet the demand.

To get tested at any of these testing sites, patients will need to first be screened and have a doctor referral. The first testing sites to come to the Austin-area were drive-through locations run by Baylor Scott & White in Austin and Round Rock. Austin Public Health says how these sites vary depending on where they are set up.

Local officials will not be releasing the locations of these testing sites, patients can only be given the address if they are referred there by a doctor in order to prevent these sites from being overwhelmed.

“We know there’s a lot of anxiety in the community, a lot of people who are reaching out to their physicians and wanting to be tested,” said Dr. Jason Pickett, Alternate Health Authority for Austin-Travis County. “Unfortunately, this is a disease that mimics cold and flu symptoms, and we’re in the middle of cold and flu season.”

Wednesday morning, Dr. Picket said that in Austin-Travis County, there are now eleven testing sites online in the area.

Pickett explained that a patient’s first point of contact to get referred to one of these testings sites is either Austin Public Health or any local doctor — APH has a new tool which launched Wednesday to streamline referrals to its testing centers.

Austin Public Health will then go through the list of potential patients and let them know if or when they should go to a testing site.

The city says about 1,000 test kits have been received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“However, there is still a significant gap between the number of tests available and the number of people seeking a test,” APH said in a release. “The authority’s tests will therefore be prioritized for those who need them most – healthcare workers, hospital patients, individuals who live in nursing homes, and those at high risk of complications from the virus.”

These results can either be processed at a state lab or at private labs. Pickett said these test results can come back as quickly as 24 hours but typically take a few days to process.

The city says it has to prioritize tests by the health authority for healthcare workers, hospital patients, nursing home residents and those at high risk of complications from the virus.

The city released a guide for potential COVID-19 patients:

  1. If you are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath), avoid the risk of spread at clinics and hospitals by using telehealth virtual visits (see a list of services on our webpage here) or calling your health provider.
  2. Your physician will determine if there is another plausible diagnosis with similar symptoms (i.e. influenza).
    • People with no insurance and no established provider experiencing Coronavirus-like symptoms should call CommUnityCare at 512-978-8775. CommUnityCare will triage people over the phone and send them to the appropriate location. 
  3. For suspected COVID-19 cases, your doctor will fill out a form. Austin Public Health will use this information to assess risk and criteria to determine whether a test is appropriate. You will be notified on whether you qualify for a test and will be provided with a test-site location. Until then, stay at home and self-distance. 

“The next four to six weeks will be critical for us as a community and us as a country to make the right decisions to make hard decisions so that we can flatten that curve very quickly,” said Austin Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott on Tuesday.

As of Wednesday morning, Austin-Travis County has 23 confirmed positive tests for COVID-19, APH said.

According to Dr. Pickett, of more than 1,200 patients who’ve met the requirements to be tested so far, only about five percent are positive for Covid-19. Some of the other tests showed other viruses.

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