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Metro Health director lays out plan to reach capacity for 3,000 tests per day

Current capacity is 1,600 tests per day, though the average performed is only 1,250

Metro Health officials work to ramp up testing capacity
Metro Health officials work to ramp up testing capacity

San Antonio – Even as Texas begins to reopen, the director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District wants to continue to grow testing capacity.

Metro Health Director Dr. Dawn Emerick told the San Antonio City Council members during a Thursday meeting that health officials hope to expand the overall testing capacity across the community from 1,600 tests a day to 3,000 tests a day by the end of June. Beyond increased access for the public, being able to perform more tests will also allow health officials to conduct a study on asymptomatic transmission and to do universal testing at certain locations.

Emerick noted that scaling up will depend on being able to acquire more supplies, which they believe will become more available in mid-May. The plan is to increase testing capacity to 2,100 tests a day by May 1; 2,600 tests a day by Jun. 1 and finally to 3,000 tests per day by Jun. 30.

Testing access will be increased through additional sites, such as walk-up mobile units and other drive-thru sites set up by the Texas Military Department, Emerick said.

“Then, we want to be targeted. So we want to look at some of our marginalized communities and marginalized groups of folks that have historically not had access to, you know, health care to begin with," Emerick said. "So many of these communities, there’s a very low uninsured rate. And so, again, we want to bring the testing to those neighborhoods.”

Emerick provided this timeline for the testing ramp-up:

Metro Health's contact tracing timeline (COSA)

Expanded capacity will also help officials begin a study on asymptomatic transmission within the community through the testing of 385 random households.

Beginning Jun. 1, Emerick said they are also hoping to start universal testing of symptomatic and asymptomatic people at locations that are at risk for an outbreak, such as they did at Southeast Nursing & Rehabilitation Center.

“So we can continue to do that with all nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, shelters for homeless and street homeless as well as (end-stage renal disease),” Emerick said.

A Metro Health spokeswoman later clarified testing would only be done at facilities where there was at least one positive COVID-19 case.

“Oftentimes in these settings, especially nursing homes, you may have folks -- residents that can’t speak for themselves. So they can’t tell you what their symptoms are. And so we want to just be extra cautious and do that universal testing to assure that we’re capturing any potential outbreaks,” Emerick said.

Metro Health is also looking to grow its contact tracing team up to 175 people, which Emerick said is a recommendation based on a formula of 15 tracers for every 100,000 people in a population.

Anyone interested in that work should call 311, she said.

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late December 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March. The first case confirmed in the U.S. was in mid-January and the first case confirmed in San Antonio was in mid-February.

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