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Health officials urge Texans to get tested for COVID-19 as wait times for results decrease

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After some Texans recently waited several days to get their COVID-19 test results, officials said turnaround times in some parts of the state have now improved.

Health officials in some of Texas’ largest metro areas said a ramp up in testing sites and staffing has decreased turnaround times for COVID-19 test results.

Demand for testing surged after the holiday season and the fast-spreading o m icron variant became the dominant strain in Texas and the rest of the country. That led to some residents waiting several days or longer to receive results. The lack of available home tests has also contributed to the increased demand for on-site testing.

“A couple weeks ago everybody saw what happened across the country and it happened here in Houston, too,” said Scott Packard, the chief communications officer for the Houston Health Department. “We had delays that were impractical for a lot of folks in getting those results.”

Packard said Friday that turnaround times are back to about 48 hours as demand for testing has waned somewhat. More facilities have also opened and labs are working around the clock.

“When there is a surge in cases . people rush to get tested because they get the right message, they understand the virus is spreading very rapidly,” he said.

Packard said there are several sites open in Houston on Saturdays and urged people who put off being tested because of long lines to take advantage of the weekend hours. Testing is free and insurance isn’t required. A list of testing sites, hours of operation and appointment information can be found at the City of Houston’s Emergency Operations Center page.

Dallas County officials have a similar message for their residents who put off testing.

“The issues that we were facing before the Christmas break, where people were waiting for long hours they have disappeared,” said Christian Grisales, the public information officer for Dallas County Health and Human Services. He said wait times are down to a matter of minutes and the turnaround for test results is less than three days now.

He credits that to expanded testing, including the opening of sites in Dallas and Arlington by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA also opened sites in Bexar, Cameron, Harris and Hidalgo counties after Governor Greg Abbott sought help from the Biden administration amid the current rise in cases, KERA reported earlier this month. The FEMA sites are in addition to nine sites throughout Dallas County.

“ In some cases at the beginning of the month, people were waiting four or five days (for results),” he said. “But this weekend would be a great opportunity to go to one of those sites.”

Increased testing will give officials a clearer idea of the caseload in Texas, which continues to rise to record levels. Packard said that while he is hopeful cases could decrease soon, Houston’s positivity rate there is still about 36 %. It’s a slight dip from last week’s 38%, but still alarming.

And in Austin, health officials said that hospitals are struggling to find beds for patients. On Wednesday, 281 people were admitted to area hospitals but had to wait in hallways or emergency departments for beds said Douglas Havron, executive director for the Capital Area of Texas Regional Advisory Council, during a Friday news conference.

Thirty-six of those patients were intensive care patients, he added, and warned that Austinites seeking emergency care should prepare for long wait times.

Testing for COVID-19 is available in Austin this Saturday at the Travis County Exposition Center and the George Morales Dove Springs Recreation Center from noon to 5 p .m ., the city health department said. That’s in addition to the various sites around the city that are open during the week. Residents who need to get tested are urged to register online here. Officials in Austin said results are normally available within three to five days but could be ready sooner.

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.

Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.