Update: On April 24, the City of Austin opened the free online testing portal here. Both the online assessment and drive-thru test are free. The assessment is available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Burmese, Chinese, Arabic, Urdu, and Korean. It is HIPPA compliant and will not ask users about immigration status.
Beginning next week, it will be easier than ever for Austin residents to get tested for COVID-19. Public health officials announced the creation of a new online portal and free drive-thru testing sites during an April 17 press conference (on Zoom, of course).
Identifying COVID-19 symptoms online
The new tool, officially called the Austin Public Testing Enrollment Form, is designed to assess a user's novel coronavirus symptoms and quickly refer them to a drive-thru testing site.
Previously, someone needing a COVID-19 test had to have a doctor's visit or telehealth assessment followed by a referral from that physician in order to get a test. This new online tool removes the need for that referral while also allowing Austin Public Health officials assess the demand for tests across the city.
“The launch of the Public Testing Enrollment Form will be a pivotal point in the testing capability for our community,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority. “As we gather more data through more testing, we will be provided a more complete picture of the impact of COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County.”
To enroll, residents go to AustinTexas.gov/COVID19 and create an account. Users are then asked to fill out a HIPPA-compliant questionnaire to determine eligibility. If a user is believed to be high risk and suffering serious symptoms, they will be referred to a drive-thru site to get a free test.
Austin Public Health warns that completing the survey does not guarantee a testing referral, and it will continue to prioritize healthcare workers, first responders, and others on the front lines of the coronavirus fight. A user may, however, return to the testing portal if symptoms change or worsen.
Free drive-thru testing
With referral in hand, patients are then assigned a testing site that same day and receive instructions and a QR code via phone, email, or text. Once at the site, those taking the test should remain in their vehicle and show the QR code and ID to the technician. Those who do not have access to transportation will be provided with additional options.
According to APH, the entire test takes about 10 minutes, and results should be obtained in two to four days. During that wait period, a person should continue to self-quarantine (hopefully they've been doing this all along).
If the test is positive, a patient will receive additional instructions and guidance from APH. They will also receive an exposure questionnaire from the City of Austin to help gather details on how the virus might have spread, such as travel and visits to high-traffic areas.
Once in operation, APH believes it will have the capacity to test 2,000 people per week with the ability to expand. During the press conference, Dr. Escott said that additional measures to get all Austinites tested — including antibody tests — will be discussed in the coming weeks.
As of April 17, Travis County had 1,029 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 18 deaths.