AUSTIN (KXAN) — Beginning Monday, two new Austin Public Health testing sites will come online in some of the neighborhoods seeing the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases — Rundberg and Dove Springs. It’s an effort to continue expanding COVID-19 testing options for those who are uninsured or without a car by Austin health leaders.

These two new testing sites are for residents of those neighborhoods and specifically for those who are uninsured and may not be able to access a test elsewhere. Due to recently increased demand for testing, both Austin Public Health and CommUnityCare have asked those who have insurance to get testing through their doctor, local clinic, or insurance company so that the APH and CommUnityCare sites will be available to those without insurance.

These neighborhood sites will accept people who walk up without an appointment, but walk-ups are not guaranteed an appointment on the same day. The department is trying to roll out more testing options where residents may have difficulty visiting a drive-up testing site or a CommUnity Care Clinic.

Austin Public Health says it has contracted with Houston-based company imaware to help with the testing at these neighborhood sites.

People living in these areas are encouraged to drive to neighborhood test sites, but they will not be turned away if they walk, bike, or ride the bus to the testing site.

A release from the Austin Public Health back on June 15 explained that APH is partnering with CommUnity Care to develop a joint map and process to “ensure that mobile testing efforts are conducted in targeted zip codes that are historically underserved.” Since the start of the pandemic, health leaders in Austin have been aware of the health disparities that may impact people living in Austin’s “Eastern Crescent,” including communities of color and communities who are low income.

Council Member Greg Casar, whose district includes the Rundberg neighborhood, spoke about the types of residents who will be served by these new testing sites.

“Those are communities of color, are working class places, the neighborhoods that have most of our essential workers,” Casar said. “Opening up those testing facilities for walk-ups will provide way more access and protection for the essential workers.”

He pointed to the increasing demand on local test sites and the exceedingly long lines at Austin CommUnityCare testing sites as evidence the area is in need of more testing options for people who do not have insurance or do not have a vehicle.

A screenshot from the City of Austin COVID-19 dashboard showing the zip codes with the highest number of COVID-19 cases based on the home addresses of people who have tested positive. Screenshot taken July 5, 2020.

“We’ve been fighting and struggling to be able to get walk-up testing sites like these,” Casar said, noting that the national supply chain challenges with COVID-19 testing and the increasing burden on labs have made this work increasingly difficult for the City of Austin.

“This is one small step in the right direction,” Casar said of these new neighborhood sites.

According to Austin’s COVID-19 dashboard as of July 4, the 78744 zip code which contains the Dove Springs area had 853 cases. The Rundberg area crosses both the 78758 zip code which has 675 cases and the 78753 zip code which has 859 cases. All of these zip codes rank highly in comparison with the highest total number of case counts in the Austin area.

“Those high numbers in certain zip codes, this one specifically in the 78744, we’ve been working with Public Health to make sure we are addressing that in the best way possible,” said Delia Garza, whose district includes the 78744 zip code and the Dove Springs neighborhood.

Garza said that many families in her district are essential workers who earn their paychecks in industries like hospitality, construction, bars, and restaurants,

“So we’ve been seeing the disparities in the positivity rates and the hospitalizations for Latinos,” Garza noted, adding that according to a 2014 report from the city’s demographer using 2010 Census data her district has nearly 70 percent of its residents identifying as Hispanic or Latino.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 5-year estimates from 2018 show that for the 24.13 Census tract where Dove Springs is located, nearly 76% of the population there identifies as Hispanic.

Hispanic Austinites have consistently since early April made up a disproportionate amount of the COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Austin MSA relative to their representation in the population. For comparison, only 32.3% of the population of the total Austin MSA identifies as Hispanic according to American Community Survey Census numbers from 2018. As of the week of June 30, 64.6% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 in the Austin MSA were Hispanic.

The two neighborhood testing sites will be located at Southeast Branch Library 5803 Nuckols Crossing Rd. and Little Walnut Creek Library 835, W Rundberg Lane.

Those who would like to get tested at the new neighborhood sites are asked to take a screening, which can be done either online or by phone at the Austin Public Health nursing hotline at 512-972-5560.