AUSTIN, Texas — As more plans are made for the state to reopen, and retail to-go begins on Friday, Texas still is far behind in testing for COVID-19.
As of Thursday evening, less than 1% of the state’s population – 0.77% – has been tested in Texas. In Travis County, that number is even lower, with about 0.66% of people tested so far.
During a news conference on Thursday morning, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said the county’s testing capacity needs to be eight times higher, according to some experts. In order to improve, Eckhardt said the county will start testing at least 2,000 people per week, through the release of a new online portal that allows residents to be screened for a test without ever seeing a doctor.
“This automates a significant portion of that contact tracing, which is really critical as we open the window to the economy again,” said Dr. Mark Escott, interim public health authority for Austin-Travis County.
The priority will be for frontline workers and people who are at high risk for severe symptoms, Austin Public Health (APH) said.
But more testing will also help APH zero in on areas with high infection rates and locations to eventually test asymptomatic people.
“Testing people that don't have the virus enables you to know what percentage of the population does have the virus,” Mayor Steve Adler said.
He said the city is working diligently to ramp up testing.
“I was elected to this job to keep the city safe, and I'm going to do everything I can possibly do to help ensure that,” Adler said.
There are also some roadblocks to more testing. According to APH, cities across Texas are dealing with a lack of testing kits. Austin Regional Clinic told KVUE it's running low on testing swabs, which limits the total number of tests it can do each day.
With the launch of the new online portal, APH expects to see thousands of people enroll for testing.
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