The availability of tests for potential cases of COVID-19 is being increased across Austin and Travis County. From today, March 18, the infrastructure for a number of referral and appointment sites is being established to help meet the growing demand for testing.
About 1,000 additional test kits have been received by the local health authority from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However, there is still a significant gap between the number of tests available and the number of people seeking a test. The authority’s tests will therefore be prioritized for those who need them most – healthcare workers, hospital patients, individuals who live in nursing homes, and those at high risk of complications from the virus.
To ensure healthcare workers who are working on the front lines of this outbreak stay healthy, Austin Public Health has already coordinated with local healthcare providers to operate initial COVID-19 testing sites to test hospital workers, and City and County EMS, Fire and Police employees.
“Testing remains limited and even with more tests available, we must continue to prioritize testing for the immediate future such as healthcare workers, hospital patients, and individuals who live in nursing homes and those at high risk of complications,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County interim health authority.
This week, a number of dedicated testing sites will open for members of the public by referral and appointment only. Under criteria laid out by the Texas Department of State Health Services, prioritization is given to individuals with a specific combination of symptoms combined with risk factors such as travel, close contact with confirmed cases, or underlying health conditions.
Guide for potential patients
- If you are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath), avoid the risk of spread at clinics and hospitals by using telehealth virtual visits (see a list of services on our webpage here) or calling your health provider.
- Your physician will determine if there is another plausible diagnosis with similar symptoms (i.e. influenza).
- People with no insurance and no established provider experiencing Coronavirus-like symptoms should call CommUnityCare at 512-978-8775. CommUnityCare will triage people over the phone and send them to the appropriate location.
- For suspected COVID-19 cases, your doctor will fill out a form. Austin Public Health will use this information to assess risk and criteria to determine whether a test is appropriate. You will be notified on whether you qualify for a test and will be provided with a test-site location. Until then, stay at home and self-distance.
Patients are advised that private healthcare providers in their areas may be providing their own testing – they should contact their doctor’s office for further guidance.
As of 11 AM March 18, Austin-Travis County was reporting 23 positive tests. Contact tracing is ongoing and initial investigations indicate more individuals may have been exposed by coming into contact with people who tested positive in the local area – known as person-to-person spread. The risk of community spread, where people become infected with the virus but may not be sure how or where they became infected, is therefore high.
Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority, said that even though Austin-Travis County did not have conclusive evidence that the area had experienced sustained person-to-person spread in the community (Phase 5 of Austin Public’s Health’s five-phase plan to coordinate COVID-19 response activities), the public should act as if Phase 5 had been reached.
“Check your symptoms and temperature before you leave home,” said Dr. Escott. “If you have a cough or a fever, you should stay home. Decreasing the spread, particularly the spread to those at highest risk for complications, depends on each member of the community being vigilant.”
Austin Public Health is stressing the importance of practicing good personal hygiene, gathering with others only if it is essential, and checking on elderly friends and family who might need some assistance during this time. If people feel sick they should stay home.
On March 17, Austin-Travis County moved to close bars, suspend dine-in service at restaurants, and ban gatherings of more than 10 people in confined spaces for six weeks under new Orders aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. The new Orders are consistent with CDC recommendations to follow a community-wide approach using social distancing to reduce illness and death. The White House has issued strict guidelines entitled “15 Days to Slow the Spread”, which urge people to “avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people” and to “avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants and food courts”.
As the new Orders are implemented, City of Austin departments are highlighting the range of services they provide to help people in the service, events, music and other industries who are likely to be impacted most by the new restrictions.