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Central Health to add additional drive-thru Covid-19 testing site

Thursday, April 9, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Travis County Central Health and CommUnityCare will announce the location of one new drive-thru Covid-19 testing site by the end of this week.

“By the end of this week, at the latest, we’ll have a plan,” said Matt Balthazar, a vice president at CommUnityCare Health Centers, in a virtual community conversation between Central Health, CommUnityCare and Sendero Health Plans on April 8. Balthazar noted that school parking lots are an ideal location due to ample space that allows for social distancing as well as vehicular traffic.

Central Health, which funds CommUnityCare, is planning to locate the new testing site in the Eastern Crescent where it will be free and available to anyone without an appointment, regardless of insurance status. To qualify for testing, individuals must exhibit a fever, cough or shortness of breath, according to guidelines based on Covid-19 symptoms identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Results are available in two to three business days.

“We’re not turning anyone away based on where they live or insurance status,” said Balthazar.

Community members raised concerns about transportation to the limited number of testing sites. Cynthia Valadez with Central Health said, “The mobile unit should be able to provide these services, especially when there is no transportation or public bus service (as it has been greatly reduced).”

In an email to the Austin Monitor, Valadez described the clinic’s mobile unit as a “moving testing site and provider of drugs and doctor visits to those marginalized by poverty and lack of social, economic, medical services.”

Currently, CommUnityCare operates one drive-thru testing site in the Hancock Center, on the corner of 41st Street and Interstate 35. The community health provider opened this testing site as a consolidated clinic when CommUnityCare indefinitely closed seven of its smaller clinics and reassigned medical staff from its mobile unit on March 23.

“We didn’t want these smaller facilities turning into hot spots,” Mike Geeslin, president of Central Health, told attendees at the community forum. “They were not set up or established to provide care during pandemic emergencies.” CommUnityCare closed the facilities to conserve personal protective equipment and adhere to the CDC’s social distancing guidelines.

Although protective equipment has been in short supply for medical professionals in recent weeks, Balthazar said it is beginning to trickle in. As of April 8, he said operational CommUnityCare clinics have sufficient gowns, gloves and eye protection. “The limiting factor for us is the N95 masks,” he explained.

While masks remain difficult to acquire, CommUnityCare has prioritized providing the equipment to its medical professionals at the Hancock Covid-19 testing site. As a result, the clinic is conducting 80 percent of its appointments, including Covid-19 pre-screenings, regular medical appointments and specialty care, over the phone.

“A lot of visits are able to be managed telephonically,” said Balthazar.“The only difference is you’re not seeing someone face to face.” CommUnityCare is also providing curbside pickup for prescriptions and free mail service to individual addresses.

CommUnityCare patients will get telephonic care indefinitely and Central Health staff will continue to prioritize resources and programs for field testing until the spread of Covid-19 has subsided. The next step in the prioritization of Covid-19 patient treatment is to open a secondary testing facility.

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