Austin Public Health Announces Online COVID-19 Testing Sign-Up

Austin public health officials say they're finalizing an online public enrollment form for COVID-19 testing that's slated to launch next week.

Austin Public Health's new platform will allow users to bypass a physician by determining whether they should be tested for the new coronavirus and then allow them to schedule a drive-thru testing appointment. Once up and running, APH says, the application will allow the health authority to test 2,000 people a week, while also assessing the overall demand for testing in the Austin-Travis County area.

Tests initially will be administered at drive-thru locations, but the health authority expects patients will eventually be able to schedule a test at a private or public health care facility. Austin Public Health will use nasal swab test kits, with a turnaround time of anywhere from two to four days.

Patients will be able to see their results as soon as a health care provider posts them on the platform's portal.

Watch a stream of the announcement below.

The sign-up platform will also allow for a more automated contact-tracing system, as it will map hotspots for COVID-19 and asymptomatic spread of the disease. It could also help officials pinpoint areas where there aren’t a lot of sign-ups and encourage residents there who might be asymptomatic to get tested.

Dr. Mark Escott, interim medical director for Austin Public Health, said that expansion will be key as Austin, and the entire state of Texas, consider transitioning back to normal life.

"As we've said for several weeks now, having adequate testing capacity, adequate access to testing for the community is one of the critical steps for us to consider reopening," he said.

And, as more and more testing options become available, Escott said the platform will go a long way toward streamlining the process by allowing results to exist within one repository.

"As individuals, as businesses continue to increase their offerings of testing, we can feed all of this into this one system so that we can accurately track who's being tested," he said.

Dr. Chris Hewitt, deputy medical director for APH, said the online portal could eventually allow patients to see real-time test results, but it will also assist APH's contact tracing team find COVID-19 hotspots in Austin and Travis County.

"After someone tests positive, it's really important to perform that contact tracing piece," he said. "And that's really what we're going to focus on by creating a digital way, an automated way, for them to notify without having to identify themselves necessarily ... people they've come into contact with or businesses."

As of Thursday, Austin and Travis County had more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19. Eighteen people have died as a result of complications related to the respiratory disease, while just over 200 people have recovered.

This story has been updated.

Got a tip? Email Andrew Weber at aweber@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.

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