Austin COVID testing sites shutter
Even as the pandemic persists, Austin health officials are shuttering some COVID-19 testing centers.
The big picture: At least three testing sites operated by Austin Public Health have closed since mid-February, including one last week in Pflugerville.
Why it matters: Sure, between the return of SXSW showcase parties and the lifting of school mask mandates, it's felt weirdly normal lately.
- But the spread of an even more transmissible Omicron subvariant is making some experts nervous as states lift restrictions and abandon testing — a key tool in combating the virus.
What they're saying: Austin Public Health officials say the moves are meant "to meet the evolving needs of our communities and in response to declining testing demand."
- At the peak of the Omicron surge, APH teams administered more than 5,500 tests in just three days (Dec. 27–Dec. 30). But by mid-February, that weekly figure dropped to 410 tests administered.
- "Moving away from mass testing and vaccination sites allows APH to return to its core mission — serving as a safety net provider," APH officials wrote in an email to Axios. "Demand for testing and vaccines has drastically declined, as have infections."
Yes but: European researchers warned last week that emerging variants could be more severe than their predecessors.
- Europe is seeing a resurgence of COVID cases likely driven by its own relaxation of pandemic rules and the spread of the Omicron subvariant BA.2, which also accounts for an increasing proportion of new U.S. cases.
The bad news: COVID is not behind us.
- President Biden recently canceled face-to-face meetings with Ireland's prime minister, who received a positive result from a coronavirus test during a gala event on Wednesday night that both men attended, the New York Times reported.
- Plus: Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, recently tested positive for the virus, as did former President Barack Obama. At least nine House Democrats received positive tests after a party retreat in Philadelphia and late-night voting at the Capitol, per the New York Times.
The good news: Federal public health guru Anthony Fauci said last week that the U.S. will likely experience an increase in COVID-19 cases from the BA.2 variant, but it may not result in a significant uptick in hospitalizations or deaths.
By the numbers: The COVID crisis in Austin has ebbed — for now.
- Pandemic-related hospitalizations in the five-county Austin area are down to a seven-day moving average of eight.
- In late January, amid the Omicron surge, that figure was hovering around 125.
What's next: Austin Public Health continues to run free vaccination clinics.
- Sites that are still operating include the African American Youth Harvest Foundation, Rodeo Austin, La Mexicana Markets on Rundberg and Stassney, and Poco Loco Supermercado on Cameron.
- Pediatric vaccinations for children 5-11 years of age are offered at Old Sims Elementary Gymnasium and the Shots for Tots clinics. Shots for Tots offers vaccines by appointment only.
Meanwhile: COVID-19 testing is still available at Metz Elementary in East Austin, and APH staff offers at-home testing throughout Travis County.
- Testing is available at private sites around Austin, including pharmacies, hospitals and urgent care centers.
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