APH will again allow asymptomatic people to get COVID-19 tests; test results coming back quicker


Austin-Travis County COVID-19 testing site for Austin Public Health (PHOTO: City of Austin)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health officials said Wednesday they will “lower the threshold” for COVID-19 testing to allow for asymptomatic people to be tested at its sites again.

Dr. Mark Escott, the area’s interim health authority, said that there’s plenty of testing options available, and they are seeing a decrease in people signing up for tests at the agency’s sites.

People can take the health screening and be referred to a testing site on APH’s website.

However, there was a little bit of concerning news from Dr. Escott.

Dr. Escott told Travis County commissioners Tuesday that local COVID-19 cases are on a slight uptick, and while revisiting that for the press conference, he said people have “hit a wall.”

“We’ve got to push through this plateau that we’re seeing,” Dr. Escott said. “We had this great run over the past two weeks with rapid decline in cases thanks to those proactive actions that folks have been taking.”

APH Director Stephanie Hayden said they are seeing more cases connected with family gatherings and other parties, and she reminded people not to let their guards down now.

“We really need to social distance, and even wear masks around family,” Hayden said. “We need to keep our guards up even with them.”

With the slight increase in active cases, Dr. Escott said it’s a good thing that intensive care units are now out of surge protocols, meaning there’s now a normal ratio of nurses to patients.

Hospital admissions averages are still in the Stage 3 area, less than 40 in a rolling seven-day period, but officials are choosing to keep the area in Stage 4 as they are hoping to see a further decline in admissions.

There’s been another improvement in test result turnarounds as well, Dr. Escott said. He said there’s a decrease is demand, the number of people signing up for neighborhood testing sites, and better capacity in labs. Test results from APH sites are now coming back in 1-2 days, rather than 3-5 days or even a week to 10 days.

Back to School Goals

Dr. Escott said he wants the area to be at Stage 2 levels, less than 10 new hospital admissions in a rolling seven-day period, when schools open. While the Austin Independent School District set to vote Thursday on delaying the start of online learning to Sept. 8, and not even opening its door for in-person learning until potentially November, that will give people more time to drive down the key indicators health officials look at.

He also wants the positivity rate to be below 5% when kids are back in schools.

“School districts need to be ready for the fact that at some stage, during the fall in particular, schools might have to close again,” he said, “and that means having a default availability of all virtual so we have that continuity of education.”

He said the recommendation, no matter what stage the area is in, will be for schools to open at 25% capacity.

Greenbelts opening

With the Austin Parks and Recreation Department set to reopen the Bull Creek and Barton Creek greenbelts Aug. 8, there’s no other update on reopening the currently closed parks, golf courses and other public amentities Dr. Escott said.

“The Parks and Recreation Department has done a great job creating processes to ensure when the greenbelts open, they do so safely,” Dr. Escott. “I know people want to get back out on the tennis courts and golf courses, we want them to, as well … But we don’t want to take risks right now when we’re teetering between Stage 3 and Stage 4. Once we see a solid two-week period in Stage 3, then we can reassess that risk.”

Hayden said it will be a phased approach when the city decides to open the rest of the public amenities, but “the health and safety of the community always comes first.”

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