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Austin Public Health launches online portal to provide COVID-19 testing referrals, track high-risk areas

Dr. Mark Escott said the portal is a crucial step toward reopening businesses.

AUSTIN, Texas — An online form that allows community members to complete an assessment for COVID-19 testing launched on Friday.

The Austin Public Testing Enrollment Form allows Austin Public Health (APH) to assess testing demand and further identify those with a higher risk of serious symptoms. APH will have the ability to test up to 2,000 people per week, with increased ability in the future.

Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority, said this form will be a pivotal point in testing capability for Travis County.

“As we gather more data through more testing, we will be provided a more complete picture of the impact of COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County,” he said. 

Filling out the testing form will not automatically grant a referral to a testing site. The drive-thru tests will be appointment only and scheduled through the same online form portal.

Tests at these drive-thru testing sites will carry no cost to the individual. Dr. Escott said the tests will provide results in two to three days, but expects the timetable will shorten in the future.

WATCH: Austin officials launching portal to facilitate free, drive-thru testing

The portal will also send emails or text messages to check in on the patient's well-being, and medical care can be escalated if symptoms worsen.

According to a press release, Austin Public Health will continue to prioritize health care workers, other first responders to the pandemic and those at higher risk for developing serious symptoms.

"In addition to asymptomatic individuals, this system allows us to identify areas that have high rates of infection and allow us to say that in those particular areas, we also want to test asymptomatic people," added Escott.

Previously, testing had been arranged through physicians, and patients needed to meet with their primary care provider or telehealth to be referred to a testing site. 

The new form cuts out the barrier to see a health care provider to receive a testing referral, but doctors still have the ability to order tests.

"We expect that thousands of people might want access to testing," Dr. Escott said. "This also helps us identify areas that might have high rates of infection."

While there currently is not the capacity to perform widespread asymptomatic testing, Dr. Escott said when high-rate areas are identified through the portal, targeted asymptomatic testing could be done.

Dr. Chris Hewitt, deputy medical director, said as testing capability in the City expands, the online portal will have new components and hopes to utilize data from other testing sites.

"Not only could it pull up APH, it could pull up hospitals and drug stores offering testing, similar to looking for a flu vaccination," Dr. Escott said. "We hope to be able to feed all of that into the system and provide contact-tracing information."

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Other components APH hopes to roll out include a real-time upload of results to the portal, which users can access as soon as the test is complete, and creating a way for those who have tested positive to notify people they have come into contact with.

Dr. Escott said the portal is a crucial step toward reopening businesses. The City is also looking for a decrease in new cases for a 14-day period and an increase in the supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

"As we have said for several weeks now, having adequate access to testing is one of the critical steps for us to consider reopening," Dr. Escott said.

How the Online Form and Portal Will Work:

  • Individuals must create an account and fill out the form located at AustinTexas.gov/COVID19
  • The form will ask several questions to determine the patient’s eligibility for a test based on set criteria. A person can fill out the form for someone who cannot do it themselves. This information is HIPPA-protected.
  • If an individual is approved for a test, the portal will allow them to schedule the location, date and time for their drive-through testing appointment.
    • Testing sites will include those operated by Austin Public Health and public-private partnership sites across Austin-Travis County.
    • The patient will receive a confirmation via phone, email or SMS with a unique QR code and instructions for the testing site within the same day.
  • If the patient does not meet testing criteria, they will be able to revisit the portal at any time to try again (e.g. if their symptoms change the following days).
  • The portal will also allow patients to see their test results and provides a community forum to ask questions and a knowledge base to view responses to frequently asked questions.
  • The HOST Team with Austin Travis County EMS will be able to complete the testing form for individuals who may not have access to a computer.

How the Drive-Thru Testing Will Work:

  • When a patient arrives at the drive-through testing location, they must remain in their vehicle.
  • Patients must show the technician the confirmation QR code along with any form of ID through their car window.
  • The technician at the testing site will then advise the patient on the next steps of the test.
  • The process from start to finish will take approximately 10 minutes.
  • Individual test results will be sent to the individual by phone, email, or they will be able to access the online patient portal.
  • Patients can expect results in three to four days.
  • If a patient tests positive for COVID-19, they will receive an automated email message with instructions on how to mitigate additional community spread of the virus, as well as guidance on how to monitor symptoms to determine if additional medical supervision is necessary.

WATCH: Coronavirus in Austin, Texas: City unveiling plan to facilitate free, drive-thru COVID-19 test

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