COVID-19 testing capabilities continuing to expand throughout Austin-Travis County
AUSTIN, Texas - Health officials say that in the first few days of Austin's Public Testing Enrollment form launching, more than 1,800 people have created accounts and completed the assessment form. Out of those individuals, officials say 538 people met the necessary testing criteria and have been scheduled for a COVID-19 test.
The increased testing is one of the factors that local officials have been emphasizing is needed in order to reopen the city and county and get the economy back up and running.
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April 25 was the first day of scheduled public testing and officials say 123 patients were tested. 300 are currently scheduled for a test on April 28.
Austin Public Health says that as more people enroll, it expects to administer 2,000 tests a week at its testing site.
Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin-Travis County, says in a news release, “When we talk about reopening Austin and Travis County, at the heart of risk assessment is person-to-person interactions, particularly with people who are not related. As we slowly begin reopening, it is critical that we continue to social distance, wear face coverings in public, and practice personal hygiene. We must also continue to protect those at risk for serious complications and death by supporting their ability to stay safe at home.”
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Austin Public Health says it continues to work with numerous private and public-private testing sites to collect data about how many tests are being conducted county-wide.
Meantime the Department of Health and Human Services (DSHS) released its own data on testing per county on its website. DSHS data show that as of April 13, 2020, there have been 8,386 cumulative total tests conducted in Travis County. Testing per capita rate for Travis County is 6.6 per 1,000 people, which is higher than other major metropolitan areas in Texas.
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Dr. Escott also adds in the news release that the rate of positive tests is around 10-12% (compared to around 18% in cities like Houston and Dallas) and that "the lower rate of positivity generally indicates a better rate of testing." He says the goal is to reach a rate of 5-6%.
Austin Public Health says it continues to use the nasal and throat swabs to determine whether a person has COVID-19 and notes that more than 100 people have been added to its contact tracing unit.
When it comes to antibody tests, Austin Public Health says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved only a few and while they're not available in Austin yet, Austin Public Health is working with UT Dell Medical to explore antibody testing strategies. Officials urge people to be cautious when considering one of these tests as "they may not be able to accurately tell you if you were truly exposed to COVID-19 or some other coronavirus."
Dr. Escott adds, “It’s also important to note that having a positive antibody test does not mean that you are immune or that you are not currently infectious.”
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Officials continue to take steps to protect the most vulnerable populations, like those at long-term care facilities and nursing homes.
There is currently a pilot testing program at an Austin nursing home that requires testing of all staff, including those who are asymptomatic who may unknowingly contribute to spread within facilities.
With the help of the State, Austin Public Health is deploying four strike teams of up to 52 people to help aggressively control and manage COVID-19 outbreaks in these types of facilities.
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The State of Texas has also provided Austin Public Health with an ID NOW™ analyzer, which is a COVID-19 rapid test machine. The machine gives results in 15 minutes. However, Austin Public Health is still waiting on test kits for the machine since they are in short supply.
Once the test kits are available, Austin Public Health hopes to deploy the machine in facilities that have an outbreak to aid in rapid testing of these facilities.
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