City of AustinFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Increased testing an ‘important factor’ in decision on reopening City and County
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, 538 people met the necessary testing criteria and have been scheduled for a COVID-19 test. On the first day of scheduled public testing (April 25), 123 patients were tested. Three hundred people are currently scheduled for a test on Tuesday, April 28.
As more people enroll, Austin Public Health expects to administer 2,000 tests a week at the APH testing site.
“The question of when to return to work, and to what level, depends on a number of factors, and testing is an important factor,” said Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin-Travis County. “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.”
City and county officials meet with Dr. Escott and other stakeholders to review the current situation and they have been discussing reopening options – which always entails testing.
“I'm pleased that we've been able to continually increase our testing here, but according to some recommendations we would need to run close to 2,000 tests a day to reach the goal that they suggested. We’ve still got a long way to go,” Escott said.
As APH continues to work with the numerous private and public-private testing sites to collect data about how many tests are being conducted county-wide, 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.
Dr. Escott says another important data point to look at is the rate of positive tests.
“When we look at cities like Houston and Dallas, the rate of positivity is on the range of 18% of the tests are positive,” Escott said. “Ours is hovering between 10-12 percent. That lower rate of positivity generally indicates a better rate of testing so we'll continue to track that with a goal to reach a rate of 5-6% positive.”
APH continues to follow CDC guidance for collecting specimens by using nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal tests, or nasal and throat swabs respectively, to determine whether an individual currently has COVID-19. Determining whether someone actively has COVID-19 is one of the best tools we have in reducing infections throughout our community.
With more testing, APH is adding more than 100 people into its contact tracing unit with the help of other city and county departments and partners.
Austin Public Health urges those with COVID-19 symptoms to call their healthcare provider or visit austintexas.gov/COVID19 to use the Austin Public Testing Enrollment Form that allows individuals to complete an online assessment for COVID-19 testing.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a few antibody tests; while it isn’t available in Austin yet, APH is working with UT Dell Med to explore an antibody testing strategy as well as validating the reliability of the results.
“The important thing to keep in mind about many of these tests is that they may not be able to accurately tell you if you were truly exposed to COVID-19 or some other coronavirus,” said Escott. “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.”
It is also possible for antibody tests to give a false negative result, leading a patient to believe they do not have COVID-19 and then not take the appropriate precautions needed to keep from spreading the disease to others and throughout our community.
APH urges everyone to be cautious when considering one of these tests.
Nursing Home Testing
There is currently a pilot testing program at an Austin nursing home that requires testing of all staff, including those who are asymptomatic. This will help APH identify asymptomatic staff who may unknowingly contribute to spread within facilities.
A similar sample of health care workers approximately a month ago tested 100 individuals and found zero of them were positive without symptoms.
With the help of the State, APH is deploying four strike teams of up to 52 people to help aggressively control and manage COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities.
The State of Texas has 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, APH is still waiting on test kits for the machine since they are in short supply.
Once the test kits are available, APH hopes to deploy the machine in facilities that have an outbreak to aid in rapid testing of these facilities