In early July, Austin Public Health stopped asymptomatic testing as it experienced a surge in new cases, an overwhelming increase in testing demand and long wait times to receive test results. In recent weeks, Travis County has seen its daily new case average dip below 300 and demand for testing slow down. Escott said test results, which, at one point, were taking more than a week to come back, are now being delivered in one to two days.
These factors, Escott said, will allow people without symptoms to qualify for and schedule a test through Austin Public Health’s online testing portal.
However, despite the relative progress, Escott said much work remains.
In his State of the City address Aug. 5, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the community’s infection rate—the rate of tests that come back positive—has been hovering between 10% and 15%. Escott said that number needs to be closer to 5% and added that rapid antigen testing—a hot topic in the community recently—needs to become more widely available.
The University of Texas said it would employ antigen testing machines to test students and faculty returning to campus in the fall.
Escott said rapid antigen testing is not as effective as the nasal swab strategy currently used by the city but that it is “probably good enough” and can deliver results in minutes as opposed to days. Escott said such rapid results would allow the community to “box in” the virus and that the city is looking at the practicality of turning toward a rapid testing strategy.
Despite the recent progress Travis County has achieved in handling the virus and protecting its health care system from overload, Escott said he is concerned about a potential bounceback in cases numbers. He urged the community to remain vigilant in social distancing and wearing a mask when out in public.