(Bobboz/Adobe)

There may be a 10-day delay between when an infected person is tested and when an investigator begins tracing their contacts, Dr. Mark Escott said Tuesday.

Reporting delays, fax machines and a reopened state have made contact tracing efforts more difficult and less effective, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said yesterday.


"Unfortunately, still, in public health here—and across the state and the country—this is a very manual and archaic process of getting information out," Dr. Escott said, speaking to Travis County commissioners. "And we're struggling with that."

Austin Public Health receives COVID-19 test results via fax. Its team of investigators—which is growing by around 10 members a week to meet demand—then must sort through the positives and negatives, which tally more than 1,000 daily.

Some results may include the contact information for the person tested, but not all do, which means investigators then have to call the doctor's office and lab to try to gather more information.

This whole process takes time.

"Right now, it's not uncommon to have a week to 10 days between [when] a person is tested and when their case is entered into the system so they can be called," Dr. Escott said. "They're probably not infectious anymore."

While the state has required labs to report COVID-19 test results digitally, not all have made the switch.

Commissioner Brigid Shea was "shocked" and "horrified" to learn test results are being sent to APH via fax.

"It's like a third-world technology," she said. "Most young people don't even know what a fax machine is anymore."

Another challenge is that Texas has more or less reopened.

"When we look at the efficacy of contract tracing in other countries where it worked, that contact tracing happened when the places generally were shut down, when people weren't moving around," Dr. Escott said.

APH, however, is trying to contact trace at the same time as hundreds of new cases are being reported each day.

"It works in some circumstances," Dr. Escott said. "But right now, across the state of Texas, we're getting reports from jurisdictions that they simply cannot trace everybody."

As a result, Dr. Escott expects a shift in strategy in the coming weeks, but he did not mention what form that shift may take.

(Mike Mareen/Adobe)

Texas is the home of the pickup truck—roughly one in five sold in the U.S. is bought here. But the next model to be made here may be one unlike any seen before.

Keep Reading Show less
(Austin Public Health)

Travis County has seen its COVID-19 fatality rate—defined as the reported deaths per confirmed cases—drop since late April.

The mortality rate for COVID-19 patients—defined as reported deaths per confirmed cases—in Austin has dropped from 3.6% at the end of April to 1.8% on June 22, a decrease that the city attributes both to better treatments and to a rising number of cases among young people, who are more likely to recover.

Keep Reading Show less

Austin Mayor Steve Adler issued a "Stay Home, Mask, and Otherwise Be Safe" order, effective from noon today until Aug. 15, requiring all individuals to wear masks and social distance. The order prohibits outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people.

Keep Reading Show less
(Gecko Studio/Adobe)

High demand across the country has led to slower turnaround times for COVID-19 test kits.

The surge in Austin's COVID-19 cases is overwhelming the public health system trying to fight community spread.

"We can't get people tested right now," said Dr. James Marroquin, an internal medicine doctor practicing in Austin. "To me, that's a scandal."

Keep Reading Show less
(HodgePodge Media)

With an endless number of podcasts out there, how does anyone decide what to listen to? Start with the homegrown. We've put together this list of 12 local—or nearly local—podcasts you won't want to miss.

Keep Reading Show less
Governor Abbott Implements Face Covering Requirement To Slow The Spread Of COVID-19

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Thursday requiring all Texans to wear masks "over the nose and mouth" in public spaces. It applies to counties with at least 20 confirmed COVID-19 cases and reverses the governor's previous policies.

Keep Reading Show less
(Austonia reader poll)

The coronavirus pandemic has altered or canceled summer plans for many. We asked you earlier this week, "What are your travel plans this summer?" The majority voted "staying home."

Keep Reading Show less