How long are wait times for COVID-19 test results in Austin?


Austin (KXAN) — With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching and pleas continuing from Austin health officials to help curb the spread of COVID-19, many people are looking to get tested for COVID-19. Austin’s Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told KXAN that Austin Public Health has seen a substantial increase in requests for COVID-19 tests ahead of the holiday.

Though companies may market other COVID-19 tests, PCR tests are the type Austin Public Health recommends taking.

KXAN looked into what the current turnaround times are for people taking PCR COVID-19 tests in Austin. What we found is that depending on whether you can pay for testing through insurance or out of pocket, results from PCR tests in Austin can take as little as 24 hours or as many as five days.

It is important to note that COVID-19 testing does not guarantee your safety and does not eliminate the high risk of COVID-19 spread that comes with attending gatherings or indoor celebrations.

As Austin Public Health emphasized, Getting a negative COVID-19 test is not a replacement for safely self-isolating.” The department said having a virtual holiday celebration or celebrating only with members of your own household is the best option this holiday season.

Austin Public Health & CommUnity Care

The city of Austin told KXAN “while we don’t know the process or cost for every group performing COVID-19 tests in Austin-Travis County, APH and CUC do provide free COVID-19 tests for any individuals, including those without insurance or documentation.”

  • Austin Public Health locations: 3-5 days
  • CommUnity Care locations: 4-5 days

Austin Public Health offers free testing at a variety of sites in the Austin area for those who take their screening questionnaire. Insurance is not required for this testing.

The department told KXAN “We recommend everyone leave at least 5 days for test results if they are being tested through Austin Public Health. Austin Public Health cannot expedite individual test results for travel or holidays. “

CommUnity Care also offers free COVID-19 testing, though they focus on offering this testing to Austinites who do not have insurance. A spokesperson for CommUnity Care tells KXAN their current four to five day wait time for COVID-19 test results will change next week. CommUnityCare was just approved by their lab provider to have priority as a testing facility and reduce their result wait time to two days.

CommUnity Care advises the Austin community prior to the Thanksgiving holiday “to limit your interaction with others outside of your household, especially those with compromised immune systems or anyone over the age of 65.”

“We know and understand this is difficult, but it is especially important for the most vulnerable,” the spokesperson for CommUnity Care said.

Free testing options are also available to UT Austin students and employees.

Wait times for COVID-19 PCR test results through Austin Public Health and CommUnity Care as of November 17, 2020. KXAN Graphic/ Rachel Garza.

Turnaround times for other testing options

At other locations for PCR COVID-19 testing in Austin, the cost for testing will depend based on your insurance coverage and whether you are paying out of pocket. Most of these organizations said that their COVID-19 testing services should be completely covered under insurance plans, but you will need to check the details of your individual plan to be sure.

Below are times each organization told KXAN it takes to return COVID-19 results to patients.

  • Austin Regional Clinic: 24-48 hours
  • Baylor Scott & White: less than a day to 72 hours depending on the urgency
  • UT Health Austin: 24-36 hours
  • Austin Emergency Center locations: 72 hours, possibly sooner
  • Austin COVID Labs Abbott PCR test: 24-48 hours
  • My Truth Test: 48 hours
  • Urgent & Family Care at Avery Ranch: 1-10 days
  • Bright Star Care of Austin: 24-48 hours
  • ExpressMD Urgent Care: 24-72 hours

Austin Regional Clinic’s Senior Operations Director Gregg Blair said ARC is seeing an increased demand for COVID-19 recently. Despite that increase, Blair said ARC has continued to return test results within one to two days.

ARC recommends you get tested within three days of when you plan to travel or be with family. ARC requires a physician’s order for a COVID-19 test through either an in-clinic or telemedicine visit.

“And we continue to stress the importance of the three main ways to help prevent contracting COVID-19: Wear a mask whenever you are outside of your house, especially when traveling; wash your hands frequently; and maintain social distancing,” Blair said.

UT Health Austin, the clinical practice of Dell Medical School, tells KXAN that timing on test results can vary based on volume at the lab where the tests are processed. A spokesperson for Dell Medical School explained that if you were to get tested on Monday, Nov. 23, you would most likely get your results the day before Thanksgiving.

Wait times for COVID-19 PCR test results through private companies in Austin as of November 17, 2020. KXAN Graphic/ Rachel Garza.

Michelle Tribble, the director of operations at Austin Emergency Centers locations, said she believes the surge of people seeking testing recently “hit all the labs and everybody pretty hard, timing out all at the same time.”

As a result, Austin Emergency Center locations have been telling patients their test results could take up to 72 hours, though Tribble says its possible they could come back sooner.

Tribble encouraged Austinites to keep washing their hands, social distancing, and wearing their masks.

Baylor Scott & White tells KXAN that through their online screening and drive through testing, they have been able to screen more than 265,000 patients for COVID-19 since March.

Faster testing options

Certain private options in Austin offer rapid testing and many of those suggest that this testing will be covered by insurance companies, but you will need to check with your individual plan to see whether that is the case. Austin Public Health expressed caution about using rapid testing options, noting that antigen testing is not the same as PCR testing. According to state guidelines, individuals who test positive for COVID-19 through a PCR test are considered a “confirmed” case, individuals who test positive through an antigen test are only considered a “probable” case.

“It is important that individuals be aware that rapid tests require a higher viral load to test positive, that is, individuals may get a false negative result because the test was taken too early. For this reason, rapid tests should be used only to quickly contain the spread of the virus, but an individual who gets a negative rapid test should still get a PCR test to confirm that they aren’t actually positive.”

-Austin Public Health spokesperson

Austin COVID-19 Labs offers a rapid PCR test in office which takes 10 to 15 minutes to return results. The lab suggests that this testing under major insurance plans would cost $35 and would cost $200 to those who are paying out of pocket.

Lawrence Chapel Pediatrics says they also offer a rapid PCR test with results in 10 to 13 minutes, though they do not take insurance.

Tarrytown Pharmacy in Austin offers drive-up antigen testing with results that come back in 12 hours or less. This testing costs $130 out of pocket as the pharmacy does not have contracts for this testing with insurance. But the pharmacy noted that patients may be able to get reimbursed for the testing through their insurance plan.

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