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Austin Public Health Is Preparing Mobile COVID-19 Testing Sites To Reach Vulnerable Groups

A mobile coronavirus testing site off I-35 in North Austin.
Michael Minasi
A mobile coronavirus testing site off I-35 in North Austin.

Austin Public Health says it’s going to launch mobile COVID-19 testing sites in Austin and Travis County to target populations that are disproportionately impacted by the virus. 

Health officials are working to identify locations throughout the county where the sites will be stationed. The goal is to make testing more available to people who have not yet been able to receive it.

Two of the most vulnerable groups are nursing home residents and communities of color, APH says. 

Locally, 30% of nursing home residents with COVID-19 end up hospitalized, compared to 15% of COVID-19 patients in the general population, according to numbers from APH. The fatality rate is also higher for nursing home residents — 22% compared to 1.7% for the rest of the population.

“COVID-19 has a devastating impact on our nursing homes and in our population over the age of 65," Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin-Travis County, said in a press release.

APH’s numbers show disparities exist among people of color as well. Among non-nursing home residents, hospitalization and fatality rates are highest for African Americans — 18% and 5.4% respectively. In comparison, white people are seeing a 12.4% hospitalization rate and a 1.9% fatality rate.

“These statistics are concerning and unfortunately, not unexpected given the history of disparities in access to healthcare and in the social determinants of health impacting communities of color,” Escott said in a statement. “While this data is preliminary and the actual magnitude of the impact on these communities is not yet certain, we will not sit idly by watching and waiting until we reach scientific certainty before taking action.” 

There are a number of reasons these disparities exist, according to APH, including the fact that people of color are more likely to experience underlying conditions like hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Additionally, they are more likely to be uninsured or live in places that are medically underserved. 

“People of color are over-represented in every characteristic that puts you at risk for complications from COVID-19,” Brion Oaks, the City of Austin’s chief equity officer, said in a press release. “They are also over-represented in essential work and employed in positions that do not allow working from home.”

In addition to launching targeted testing sites, APH says it’s working to better engage with vulnerable populations. On June 13, the city plans to host a conversation with communities of color to talk about ways to improve health outcomes. More details are to come, the city says.

Got a tip? Email Marisa Charpentier at Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.

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Marisa Charpentier is KUT's assistant digital editor. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.
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