Austin-Travis County health officials discuss online assessment for COVID-19 testing
AUSTIN, Texas - City and county health officials held a news conference this morning to talk about a new online assessment for COVID-19 testing that will roll out over the next week.
The Austin Public Testing Enrollment Form was created in partnership with NTT DATA and will also enable Austin Public Health to assess testing demand and identify those who pose a higher risk of serious symptoms.
Dr. Mark Escott, Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority; Dr. Chris Hewitt, Deputy Medical Director for City of Austin; and Dr. Elizabeth Douglass, Infectious Diseases Specialist at Dell Medical School at UT Austin spoke during the news conference.
Before the Public Testing Enrollment Form, testing in Austin-Travis County has been arranged through physicians. That meant people had to meet with primary care providers or telehealth and then be referred to a testing site.
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The new form means that healthcare providers will no longer be needed to refer someone for a test.
"The launch of the Public Testing Enrollment Form will be a pivotal point in the testing capability for our community," said Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority in a news release. "As we gather more data through more testing, we will be provided a more complete picture of the impact of COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County."
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The enrollment form, officials say, will be another critical piece to increasing testing capacity in Austin-Travis County. Once it is operational, Austin Public Health is expected to have the ability to test up to 2,000 people per week, with the ability to expand.
Officials say that if you complete the testing form that doesn't guarantee that you will be referred to a testing site. Austin Public Health says it will continue to prioritize health care workers and first responders on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as people at higher risk for getting serious symptoms.
Drive-through tests will be by appointment only and scheduled through the Austin Public Testing Enrollment Form portal. Tests at the Austin Public Health testing sites will be at no cost to the individual.
How the online form and portal will work
First, people must create an account and fill out the form that will be located at AustinTexas.gov/COVID19. The form will ask several questions to determine the patient's eligibility for a test based on set criteria. A person can fill out the form for someone who cannot do it themselves. This information is HIPPA-protected.
If an individual is approved for a test, the portal will allow them to schedule the location, date and time for their drive-through testing appointment.
Testing sites will include those operated by Austin Public Health and public-private partnership sites across Austin-Travis County.
The patient will receive a confirmation via phone, email or SMS with a unique QR code and instructions for the testing site within the same day.
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If the patient does not meet testing criteria, they will be able to revisit the portal at any time to try again (e.g. if their symptoms change the following days).
The portal will also allow patients to see their test results and provides a community forum to ask questions and a knowledge base to view responses to frequently asked questions.
The HOST Team with Austin Travis County EMS will be able to complete the testing form for individuals who may not have access to a computer.
How the drive-through testing will work
When a patient arrives at the drive-through testing location, they must remain in their vehicle.
Patients must show the technician the confirmation QR code along with any form of ID through their car window. The technician at the testing site will then advise the patient on the next steps of the test.
The process from start to finish will take approximately 10 minutes.
Individual test results will be sent to the individual by phone, email, or they will be able to access the online patient portal. Patients can expect results in 3-4 days.
If a patient tests positive for COVID-19, they will receive an automated email message with instructions on how to mitigate additional community spread of the virus, as well as guidance on how to monitor symptoms to determine if additional medical supervision is necessary.
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Those who do not have access to transportation to the site will be provided with other options to receive testing from community partners.
As of April 8, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) was reporting that 6,221 tests had been completed in Travis County. However, the DSHS data has 18,607 tests in which the county is either unknown or is pending assignment.
In addition to scheduling tests and monitoring confirmed positive cases, the City of Austin will send an automatic exposure questionnaire to residents who test positive, which will help gather details on how the virus might have spread, such as travel and visits to high-traffic areas.
The application will also send follow-up emails or text messages to check in on each resident's well-being, so medical care can be escalated if necessary.
The development of the Public Testing Enrollment Form is nearing completion and the system is expected to be launched in the coming week.
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