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Gloria Vera-Bedolla's 24-year-old son started feeling sick on a Friday. He had a high fever, chest congestion, body aches and a bad cough. Four of his co-workers at a beer distributing company had tested positive for COVID-19.
On Saturday, Vera-Bedolla's daughter-in-law called her worried, and the two of them got to work looking for a test.
Five sites—including his doctor at Victory Medical and three CommUnity Care drive-thru locations—said they were either out of appointments or unable to provide results for up to 11 days.
"A person could've died by then," Vera-Bedolla told Austonia.
Finally, they found an open slot for a rapid test appointment at Austin Regional Clinic in Pflugerville—at 2 a.m. on a Monday. It cost $175, but the results were available in around 30 minutes.
Experiences like his are not uncommon in Austin as demand for COVID-19 testing soars and both local and national labs are overwhelmed. Vera-Bedolla's son (who was not available for an interview) is finally starting to feel better. But the run on tests continues.
As the COVID-19 surge worsens in Texas and dozens of other states, increased demand for testing has overwhelmed clinical labs, driving up turnaround times and thwarting efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
Austin Public Health announced a few weeks ago that it would restrict free testing to residents with symptoms or known exposure and encouraged residents with insurance to get tested at their doctor's office.
But private practices are facing the same constraints.
"To me, it's a scandal," Dr. James Marroquin told Austonia.
Dr. Marroquin works at Capital Medical Clinic, an internal medicine practice on West 38th Street. Up until about mid-June, the clinic was testing around 100 patients for COVID-19 each week, Clinic Administrator Rae Smith said.
But around the time APH recommended patients seek out tests at private providers, the clinic's lab, Clinical Pathology Laboratories, said it would no longer accept COVID-19 tests because of a backlog. So the clinic stopped offering tests except to very high-risk patients. The clinic has since started accepting tests again, but doctors remain concerned about another backlog.
Other labs are facing similar issues, including two of the country's largest: Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp.
"I would say it's a systems issue," Texas Academy of Family Physicians CEO Tom Banning told Austonia. "We didn't design our lab system to do mass COVID testing."
Notes on getting a covid test in Austin rn: - The free city-run testing site’s first available was July 17. - Usin… https://t.co/YbkNAw8T3v— Summer Anne Burton (@Summer Anne Burton)1594142989.0
Overwhelmed labs, which used to provide test results in three to five days, are now reporting wait times of a week or longer. This causes two main problems.
First, it stymies containment.
The main goal of testing is to help "box in" the spread of COVID-19 by alerting people who are infected of their status and prompting them to self-isolate and inform their contacts, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott explained last week.
"If we're getting results after the person is no longer infectious, that strategy no longer works," he said.
A patient may recover in the seven to 10 days it takes to receive a test result—and expose others in that period.
"At that stage, the test results are relatively useless for us," Dr. Escott said.
Second, it complicates health authorities' understanding of the virus.
Travis County reported 3,109 cases last week, 187 fewer than the week prior. But authorities say that could be because many tests are in limbo—conducted but not processed.
"We are missing thousands of results, so it's really difficult for us to tell if things are getting better or not," Dr. Escott said.
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Police have arrested one of two suspects involved in a mass shooting at Austin's Sixth Street in the early morning hours on Saturday, leaving 14 people injured and two in critical condition.
The arrest was made by the Austin Police Department and the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force. One suspect is still at large.
Police started receiving 911 phone calls at 1:24 a.m about a man that fired shots into a large crowd, and responded to a chaotic scene on the 400 block of East Sixth Street. Detectives are surveying video footage captured by bystanders and cameras on the scene to identify the suspect.
The Austin Police Department has narrowed down their search to two male suspects and believes there was "some type of disturbance" between the two parties.
No deaths have been reported. Fourteen victims are receiving treatment in a hospital in stable condition with one treated in an emergency room; two are in critical condition.
According to Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon, "almost all" of the victims are innocent bystanders but police have not ruled anyone out at this time.
Shooting on 6th Street Austin Texas 6-12-2021 (Aftermath) youtu.be
The shooting occurred on the weekend of the Republic of Texas Motorcycle Rally. With lots of people downtown, police say it was difficult to get EMS in and out of the scene. Police arrived while the scene was still an "active threat," officers "immediately began lifesaving measures" and drove six victims to the hospital in their squad cars, said Chacon, and four were transported in ambulances.
Chacon said that the incident is believed to be isolated, and they optimistic they will be successful in getting the two suspects into custody. Multiple departments, including APD, the FBI, Texas DPS and the ATF, are involved in the investigation.
Austin police are also requesting state troopers for patrol assistance in the coming days. Chacon stressed staffing issues are increasingly making responding to emergency calls "very hard."
"Overall, we remain a safe city," Chacon said. "Also keep in mind when you come downtown, you need to be safety conscious. Be vigilant of your environment and your surroundings."
Today marks the five-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in which 49 were killed and 53 wounded in Orlando, Florida. Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call 911 or 512-472-TIPS.
This story was updated at 2:47 p.m. to include new information and will be updated as more details are revealed.
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Austin police are investigating a homicide in North Austin where a woman was shot and killed, just hours after a mass shooting in Downtown Austin hospitalized 14 people.
APD is working a suspicious death near the 1900 block of W Rundberg Ln. PIO is en route and will update with media staging location. PIO6
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) June 12, 2021
Police originally responded to Ironhorse Flats Apartments, 1900 block of W. Rundberg Lane, at 3:20 p.m. when they found the woman with multiple gunshot wounds. She was transported to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 4:07 p.m.
No one is in custody as of yet but police are speaking with potential witnesses. Officials said they believe this was an isolated incident with no danger to the public but said possible relation to the downtown shooting has not been specifically ruled out.
Officers could not provide a suspect description and the relationship to the victim is still unknown.
This is a developing story that will be updated as details become available.
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