AUSTIN (KXAN) — COVID-19 testing sites are still working to meet demand, and with a federal vaccine mandate back in effect for large employers, some are already preparing for the next surge.
A U.S. court of appeals has allowed the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) vaccine mandate to remain in place.
The rule requires employers with a total of at least 100 workers to enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy or require weekly testing and masking for those who are not fully vaccinated.
According to its website, OSHA will not be issuing any citations until Jan. 10, and until Feb. 9 for the testing requirements, “so long as an employer is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance with the standard.”
“To account for any uncertainty created by the stay, OSHA is exercising enforcement discretion with respect to the compliance dates of the ETS,” the website reads.
Point of Care Health Services said it expects a huge increase in testing demand as employers try to get into compliance with the new rule.
“We are in the double digits of employers that have reached out just this week,” said CEO Wendy Garner.
Garner said those employers either have sick workers or are are trying to get ready for the new federal mandate.
“We already had clients that we were testing for on a regular basis who adopted this before the mandate went into effect. So … we’re juggling a lot at this time,” she said.
She said they had to shut down early on Tuesday after running out of tests.
“We can’t keep up with all of it, but we’re trying,” Garner said.
Garner said they got a shipment later Tuesday and plan to be back open Wednesday morning. She also said they are already preparing to partner with another company to meet the anticipated demand from local businesses.
“Staffing shortages affect us as well as anyone else,” Garner said. “And so, by partnering with another group, we can help bridge that gap.”
Nomi Health, which is hosting a drive-thru testing site at the Long Center this week, tested nearly 1,000 people Tuesday. A spokesperson for the company said results from Tuesday’s tests yielded a 26% positivity rate, with 80% of those positive tests coming from fully-vaccinated individuals.
While Nomi Health said it was able to reduce wait times by half on Tuesday compared to Monday, it plans to add more lanes Wednesday to accommodate the demand for tests.
Austin Public Health said it administered 755 tests Monday at the Expo Center alone, and 1,344 at that location Tuesday.
Testing protocols for large Austin employers
A spokesperson for St. David’s HealthCare said they currently provide COVID-19 testing for symptomatic employees, “and it is working to provide testing to provide testing to employees who are scheduled to return to work after the recommended isolation period, as well.”
When asked if and how the company may be working to meet OSHA’s requirements, the spokesperson said they did not have additional details to share at this time.
OSHA’s mandate does not require businesses to pay for testing, but said “nothing prohibits employers from voluntarily assuming the costs associated with testing.”
According to the Austin Chamber of Commerce, St. David’s employs 6,000 or more people.
Dell Technologies also falls into that category, according to the Chamber, and is already mobilizing to meet OSHA’s requirements.
Dell announced Tuesday it’s delaying the reopening of all U.S. locations.
Before this announcement, spokesperson Talia Hill said they were initially planning to reopen all sites starting Jan. 4 for those who want or need to work in person and sent an email earlier this month to employees about their return to office plan.
That includes requiring workers who do return on-site to be vaccinated or undergo weekly rapid testing.
Dell would have also required on-site visitors to show proof of full vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test in the last seven days.
According to the National Law Review, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on legal challenges to OSHA’s rule on Jan. 7.