COVID-19 tests in Austin-Travis County hard to find heading into holidays

Travis County

TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — A day after health leaders promoted free at-home COVID-19 test kits through Travis County, the county says the system was “overwhelmed” and tests are now gone.

The county reported roughly 1,300 test kits were passed out in less than 24 hours Tuesday into Wednesday. The program was originally intended to be a by-appointment test pick-up for residents, but demand was so high, kits at some locations were ultimately being given on a first-come-first-served basis.

“I am worried about the new variant and we’re traveling for the holidays, like a lot of people, and we just want to make sure that we are abundantly careful and not inadvertently getting other people sick,” said Celeste Padilla, one of the people picking up a test kit at the Del Valle community center.

Padilla said she called around to several county locations Wednesday morning to find they were already out of kits. She drove to Pflugerville but by the time she got there, those were gone too. Finally, she found available tests at the Del Valle location.

“The process was really easy except that there are not enough kits,” Padilla said. “I would have thought that with omicron being so prevalent that we would have been a little bit more prepared.”

The demand for tests was universal across Central Texas this week. From national pharmacies to locally-based testing companies, those involved in getting tests out to Texans all reported they were seeing a spike in demand.

Abbott, the company that produces BinaxNOW, an at home test sold at many pharmacies, told KXAN they’re seeing an unprecedented demand too.

“We’re sending them out as fast as we can make them,” John Koval, director of public affairs for Abbott, wrote to KXAN in part. “This includes running our U.S. manufacturing facilities 24/7, hiring more workers and investing in automation.”

Several people also reported to KXAN’s ReportIt that the tests they received through the county were expired. According to AccessBio’s website, and looking at the lot number on photos of the expired tests we received, it appears the shelf life has been extended on those tests by six months.

COVID-19 test with expired printed expiration date
COVID-19 test with expired printed expiration date (KXAN photo)

When KXAN was at the testing sites Wednesday, county staff passing out the tests were telling community members that regardless of the date printed, the tests didn’t expire until January 2022. That matches the extended shelf life listed on the website.

“When you receive your test, before you leave the community center double-check and make sure it has not expired but all our kits are up to par,” a spokesperson for the county told us Tuesday.

The kits being handed out to people at community centers were packs of 20 tests, according to community members and what KXAN saw while at the sites. A Travis County spokesperson said they had not been at the sites and could not confirm this.

“I feel really fortunate and I also feel really bad because I think there’s a lot of people who are not going to get these and there’s a lot of people who, even if there were tests in stores, those are really expensive,” Padilla said.

Travis County could not tell KXAN when more tests would be available, they encouraged people to seek other options for testing.

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