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Austin Public Health's COVID Test Sites Are Swamped. That's A Sign Of Inequity, Community Group Says.

A person administers a COVID test.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Mary Hoch administers a COVID-19 test at an event at Austin ISD headquarters in March.

People have been waiting hours to get tested at Austin Public Health's two coronavirus testing sites as cases in the area soar and COVID-related ICU admissions reach alarming levels.

The St. Johns site in North Austin and one at the Dove Springs Rec Center in Southeast Austin have been inundated over the past few days. Dozens of cars stretched across the parking lot of the St. John's site Wednesday. Some people said they waited over three hours to get tested at the Dove Springs site Tuesday.

Paul Saldaña of the Austin Latino Coalition said the wait is problematic, particularly in Dove Springs.

According to APH numbers, that ZIP code — 78744 — had the highest positivity rate this week and the largest percentage of residents admitted to the hospital due to COVID complications. The neighborhood has the largest share of Latino families in the city.

Saldaña said the delays are more evidence of persistent inequities in access to testing and vaccines, as well as poor outreach efforts.

“Austin Public Health is sending mixed messages: certainly, get the vaccine ... but also go get COVID testing," he said. "But it appears they’re not adequately staffed and prepared to provide the community COVID testing.”

Saldaña said people reached out to the coalition after waiting hours for a test Tuesday. One family he spoke to said they were turned away last week and ended up driving to San Antonio to get tested.

Saldaña and other residents reached out to District Council Member Vanessa Fuentes last week about the long wait times. Her office told KUT in an email that the health authority assured her Tuesday night that it would boost staffing. Fuentes, who met with APH Friday, said she was "disappointed" to still see the long lines.

"I expect our institutions to be proactive in their planning and response efforts," she said. "That being said, APH has ensured me they have increased staff capacity and taken the necessary measures to meet the needs of our community during this critical time."

An APH spokesperson told KUT the sites are not understaffed, but encouraged people to sign up before heading over.

Saldaña pointed out that the agency's website says walk-up testing is available and that many Dove Springs residents may not have consistent internet access.

"Any time you're going to have information or resources [for] ... testing or COVID vaccines that's predicated on people having to access Wi-Fi or internet, it's not going to happen," he said. "So, again, mixed messages are coming from Austin Public Health."

The APH spokesperson told KUT the agency is evaluating community demand and considering adding more test sites.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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