COVID-19 test demand in the Austin area leads to longer wait times and availability issues

Photo of COVID-19 testing operation
Over the past two weeks, Austin Public Health has administered more than 14,000 tests. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Over the past two weeks, Austin Public Health has administered more than 14,000 tests. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

As the COVID-19 omicron variant has taken hold of Central Texas, demand for testing has increased dramatically since the Thanksgiving holiday.

Austin Public Health, which hosts free testing sites at the George Morales Dove Springs Recreation Center and Travis County Exposition Center, administered 8,071 tests the week of Jan. 3 and 6,500 the week of Jan. 10.

According to an APH spokesperson, that increased demand, in addition to staffing shortages caused by the virus, has led to longer wait times. While it might have taken about five minutes to get a test in November, that number now ranges from 15 minutes to one and a half hours.

Making an appointment online or by calling 311 or 512-974-2000 for a test can help to reduce wait times, the spokesperson added. In general, people looking for tests early in the morning have seen lower wait times.

APH could finalize a contract with an outside contractor to administer tests by the end of January. That contractor would have the capacity to administer 1,000 tests per day. APH currently can test 50 people per 30 minutes.

The George Morales Dove Springs Recreation Center testing location is open Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the Travis County Exposition Center location is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Other testing options

In addition to APH, Central Texans can find tests at other providers, such as Walgreens and CVS.

As of Jan. 19, PCR tests were available at the East Riverside Drive, Guadalupe Street and South Congress Avenue Walgreens locations.

Of the 10 CVS locations closest to the 78701 ZIP code, the first available test appointments were for Jan. 23 at the South Congress Avenue, West Slaughter Lane and two West William Cannon Drive locations, as of Jan. 19.

President Joe Biden also rolled out an effort to send at-home tests to U.S. households, purchasing one billion tests. The online portal opened Jan. 18 and allows for four tests to be sent to every residential address at no cost.

APH has also requested at-home test kits from the state of Texas to distribute in the Austin area, the spokesperson said.
By Benton Graham

Metro Reporter, Austin

Benton joined Community Impact Newspaper as a metro reporter covering transportation in Central Texas in June 2021. Benton's writing has appeared in Vox, The Austin Chronicle, Austonia and Reporting Texas. Originally from Minneapolis, Benton graduated from William & Mary and eventually moved to Austin in 2018.