Rapid COVID-19 tests are becoming increasingly available and popular in Austin, but the results are not counted toward the area's confirmed-case totals, raising questions among health officials about whether they are underestimating the disease's spread.
"That's something that we're looking at right now, as to what kind of impact that's having on our numbers," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said.
The results of the rapid antigen tests, which return results in as little as 15 minutes, are slightly less accurate than the slower genetic tests and aren't reported in the county's daily confirmed cases because they are considered "probable" instead of "confirmed" in state and CDC guidelines.
While local health officials study the issue - and even consider offering the antigen tests for free to residents - some in the medical community say the impact of the omission on daily totals is clear.
"I think we're seeing an undercount by not including the rapid antigen tests," said Dr. David Gude, Chief Operating Officer of Texas MedClinic, which offers the tests at its 19 Central Texas locations.
The number of people seeking out free COVID-19 genetic testing through Austin Public Health has declined in the wake of the recent surge. Local officials attribute this to both a lower transmission rate and the increasing availability of the rapid antigen tests, which detect active COVID infections.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued its first emergency use authorization to a rapid antigen test in May, acknowledging that the model is marginally less sensitive than the genetic—or polymerase chain reaction tests—already in use.
But the antigen tests offer the benefits of being cheaper to produce, less invasive to conduct and much faster results—in around 15 minutes.
Patients who receive genetic tests, on the other hand, may wait more than a week for results because the tests must be sent out to labs for processing, and many national labs are overwhelmed.
The Texas Department of State Health Services recently began reporting the number of antigen tests and positive results as probable cases, although an agency spokesperson told the Houston Chronicle earlier this month that the policy may change given the growing reliance on antigen tests.
Since Aug. 6, 16,409 antigen tests have been conducted in Texas compared to around 100,000 genetic tests in that same period.
Texas recently began reporting the number of rapid antigen tests conducted across the state.
The state dashboard shows the recent addition of antigen test numbers.
(Department of State Health Services)
APH would not provide the number of positive results reported from rapid antigen tests conducted in Travis County. Austonia has filed a public records request for the information.
"I think it's very unfortunate that some decision-makers have decided to not include the rapid antigen tests in the case counts," Gude said.
A clear preference
Although genetic tests continue to outnumber rapid antigen tests overall, at the private testing sites that offer rapid antigen tests—which require certain on-site equipment to process—this is not the case.
At Total Men's Primary Care, which has 16 locations in and around Austin, demand for genetic tests is down because of the long wait times for results, CEO Robert Sek said.
Similarly, Texas MedClinic is seeing decreased demand for both rapid antigen testing and genetic testing compared to the surge period. But the level of interest for each type of test is not the same.
For patients not traveling abroad or awaiting surgery, two instances that might require a negative genetic test result, antigen tests are the clear favorite because of their rapid response time, Gude said.
"The only patients that I see that have any preference for a [genetic test] is because there's some agency or entity that is requiring [it]," Gude told Austonia.
- Over a dozen UT football players test positive for COVID-19 - austonia ›
- Coronavirus testing rates in Austin mean 'the only thing you know is ... ›
- Coronavirus testing rates in Austin mean 'the only thing you know is ... ›
- Overwhelmed labs, delayed test results impact Austin's efforts to ... ›
- Officials will debut new COVID-19 testing enrollment system to ... ›
- Austin sees COVID-19 testing shortages, delayed results - austonia ›
- Austin Public Health to expand testing amid plateau - austonia ›
- Austin Public Health considers offering rapid COVID testing - austonia ›
- Rapid antigen test still not counted in Austin COVID numbers - austonia ›
- Pharmacies head into another week of empty shelves, scrambles for COVID tests in omicron rush - austonia ›
Samsung might soon be making more moves in the Austin metro.
The tech giant, which made waves as it announced plans to build a $17 billion chip plant in Taylor in late 2021, might be looking to expand in the Northeast Austin area, according to an Austin Business Journal report.
ABJ said the South Korean company is seeking more tax breaks from nearby Taylor and Manor school districts. The company filed documents requesting Chapter 313 incentives related to the breaks Saturday, and ABJ said each district will review the requests separately on Tuesday.
"While we do not have specific plans to build at this time, the Chapter 313 application process is part of our long-term planning to evaluate the viability of potentially building additional fabrication plants in the U.S.," Samsung Austin Semiconductor LLC.'s director of communications, Michele Glaze, told the ABJ.
But Samsung has made headlines for more than just the $17 billion plant: In early 2022, the company caught heat for two separate spills of millions of gallons of wastewater into tributaries near its semiconductor plant.
While no expansion is promised, ABJ speculates that expansions could occur at the 1,200 acre planned Taylor factory or near the chipmaking factory on Austin's East Parmer Lane. Both expansions could bring even more revenue and job opportunities to Samsung's Texas home.
- Micron may bring chipmaking plant to Central Texas - austonia ›
- Austin's semiconductor industry could help address global chip ... ›
- Samsung is considering building a $10B chip plant in Austin - austonia ›
- Taylor, Texas chosen as new site of Samsung chip-making facility ... ›
- Central Texas sees record job growth fueled by Samsung, Tesla ... ›
- Sulfuric acid waste spills at Samsung then into nearby creek - austonia ›
- Samsung chooses Austin-outskirt Taylor for $17 billion chip plant ... ›
- Creek near Northeast Samsung plant hit with more waste - austonia ›
A first minute error gave Austin FC an early setback, but with the help of two red cards and two second-half goals, the Verde and Black still forced a last-minute tie in a messy home battle against Orlando City SC Sunday night.
With the 2-2 draw, Austin dropped from No. 1 in the MLS West conference but still earned a point in the standings thanks to a penalty kick goal from Sebastian Driussi and a breakthrough shot from striker Moussa Djitte, who scored his first goal with the club in the final minute of play.
Here are the top three takeaways from the match:
A fateful mistake
Just days after his highlight reel-worthy LAFC performance, Austin keeper Brad Stuver scratched heads as he gave away a goal seconds into the game. Stuver's fateful pass went straight to Orlando's Junior Urco, who was already in the box and tapped a quick pass to Ercan Kara to score the first goal of the match.
The mistake forced Austin to chase a tie for the rest of the match, especially as center back Ruben Gabrielsen benched himself in the 20th minute. The team later said Gabrielsen has come down with something similar to a stomach bug.
Orlando would score two minutes later, and Austin FC left the first half looking like the opposite of its "Best in the MLS" self from just days prior.
The two red cards
By the 60th minute of the match, however, the tides had turned. Orlando's Rodrigo Schlegel, who had already racked up a yellow card on a handball, was ousted from the game two minutes later for yet another handball, this time in the penalty box.
Austin's main man Sebastian Driussi took the kick and sent it in for his eighth goal of the season to make it 2-1.
And just over five minutes later, Orlando's Cesar Araujo was the second man in purple kicked out of the match after he kicked Alex Ring on a slide tackle near the box. Austin was left with just over 20 minutes, and just nine opponents left, to try and tie it up.
The 'Mouss' is loose!
As the whistle blew and regulation time ran out, Orlando seemed to have won the match. The team had withstood many, many close calls—including two shots off the post from Austin FC's Diego Fagundez and Maxi Urruti—as Austin FC flooded the box with 22 cracks at a goal.
But thanks to the chaotic nature of the game, Austin FC was given nine extra minutes to tie it up. Moussa Djitte was the one who finally broke through five minutes into stoppage time, earning his first goal in Verde to put a 2-2 cap on the wild home match.
- Dominguez, summer heat shrouds Austin FC in 1-0 LA Galaxy loss ... ›
- Austin FC is No. 1! Austin takes home MLS West title in 2-1 LAFC ... ›
- Masks, Meh-teh and a miracle chicken: Meet the 'cryptids' of Austin FC ›
- Austin FC's Q2 Stadium is the biggest party in Austin - austonia ›
- Meet Austin FC's millionaires and more salary data - austonia ›