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COVID testing remains a challenge even as Austin officials report 'refreshing' trends
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Increased demand for COVID-19 testing nationally continues to slow turnaround times and thwart contact tracing efforts.

Sustained demand for testing continues to slow turnaround times at public testing sites and thwart contact tracing efforts even though Austin officials are reporting positive trends in COVID data.


The number of COVID-related hospital admissions and daily new confirmed cases are plateauing and indicate recent policy changes—including a state masking mandate and local park closures—are curbing transmission, local officials said.

"This is refreshing news," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said at a press conference on Wednesday.

But Austin Public Health continues to limit access to its free testing service to residents with symptoms or known exposure to the virus even as its capacity has increased dramatically—88% in the month of July.

The department is now conducting more than 6,000 tests a week. "This is roughly double the testing that we did just a few weeks ago, so we're very proud about that," Dr. Escott said Tuesday.

Turnaround times are holding steady—at around five to seven days for tests conducted by APH, according to Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette—but are still long enough that patients may recover by the time they learn their results.

"The purpose of testing at this stage is to contact trace, to isolate, to box it in," Dr. Escott said, but he added that current delays render this strategy ineffective.

These issues are not unique to Austin.

Quest Diagnostics, one of the country's largest clinical labs, reported an average turnaround time of a week or longer in a July 20 press statement.

"While some patients may receive their test results in as quickly as 2-3 days, a small subset of patients may experience wait times of up to two weeks," the company wrote.

Quest attributed the delay to increased demand for testing, which it said is highest in the South, Southwest and Western regions of the U.S.

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