Lag in COVID-19 test results ‘perhaps getting worse’ as hospitalizations rise


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thousands of people in the Austin area are waiting in isolation to learn if they have COVID-19, as the delay in turnaround time for results stretches longer.

Dr. Mark Escott, the interim health authority for Austin-Travis County, said Wednesday that CommUnityCare is still waiting to receive about 2,000 test results right now. He added that turnaround for those can be anywhere from seven to 10 days at this point if tests are sent to some national labs.

“The lag time in test results is holding steady, and perhaps getting worse,” Dr. Escott said during a virtual briefing.

He and Stephanie Hayden, the director of Austin Public Health, also said they will meet at noon Wednesday with local leaders and other health experts to discuss possibly moving the area to Stage 5 on the agency’s risk-based guidelines chart.

The seven-day moving average of hospital admissions moved to 74.8 new admissions Tuesday, and officials said they are waiting for more data to become available before making an announcement to move to Stage 5. A 35-day shutdown is also potentially in play, but Gov. Greg Abbott says local officials cannot enact a shutdown without his permission.

Dr. Escott said he wants to avoid two things: hospitals becoming overcrowded and having to recommend another shutdown to the governor.

“We’re in a very dangerous situation in the state of Texas,” he said. “We simply must be careful because we are at the verge of a real crisis in Texas. Now’s the time to act…by staying home.” 

He encouraged people to only leave home for essentials, avoid gatherings even with family members and friends and consider not attending religious services in person.

Spokespeople for all three hospital systems in the area — Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White and St. David’s — report that hospitals are 75% full, with intensive care units above 80% capacity.

If it’s needed, an overflow hospital in the Austin Convention Center will be ready for patients by July 21, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said.

Dr. Escott said Wednesday that contracts are still being secured for this alternative hospital, and plans are being ironed out to handle the buildout process.

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