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People wait hours at pop-up COVID testing site as demand continues to soar

A person in personal protective gear stands outside a car with downtown Austin as the backdrop
Gabriel C. Pérez
A health care worker administers a COVID-19 test at a drive-thru pop-up site at the Long Center for the Performing Arts on Monday.

Demand for COVID-19 tests drew hundreds of people to line up in cars at a drive-thru pop-up testing site at the Long Center for the Performing Arts on Monday.

Nomi Health, in partnership with the Long Center, hosted the site, which offered both PCR and rapid tests for free. The latter provided results within an hour.

Following an increase in demand, the testing site will now be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday. Appointments are not required, but people will need to submit demographic information and insurance information if they have any. You can also pre-register online.

Gretchen Smith was in line before 10 a.m., when the site was scheduled to open. Someone from her workplace had tested positive for COVID-19, and she said she wanted results quickly so she could return to work.

“I don’t feel sick and I don’t think I have COVID,” Smith said. “But because I work with children with the Parks and Rec Department, I feel like it’s my job to go ahead and get tested and be responsible.”

Others in line were also being proactive.

Martin Ldal said he and his wife, who are both teachers, were using their off day to get tested. He said his mother and brother are visiting family out of state, and he wants them to get tested, too, when they come to Austin.

“I want to make sure that when they’re here, they get tested as well,” Ldal said. “I just wanted to show them that this is a safe way to do it.”

Melissa Engleman, who was waiting in line for more than two hours, said she thought she had a sinus infection. She wanted to make sure it wasn’t COVID-19, though, so she didn’t get anyone else sick. She opted for the drive-thru after she couldn’t find an appointment available until Tuesday.

Alyssa Piper said she thought she might actually have COVID; she said she was experiencing chills and difficulty breathing. Piper said the symptoms were unlike any she had experienced before. Even though the line moved only about 500 feet in half an hour, she said, the drive-thru was still her best option.

“We tried to get an at-home test,” Piper said. “CVS was sold out. Walgreens was sold out. And so, this was our best bet in terms of same-day results.”

Boe Hartman, cofounder of Nomi Health, said the company has plenty of test kits to meet the demand, but may add to the four or five workers to help with the long lines.

Sangita Menon is a general assignment reporter for KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @sangitamenon.
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