Texas COVID-19 tests drop as schools reopen, prepare for football

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AUSTIN, TEXAS – Anyone can take a coronavirus test at the CentroMed clinic in San Antonio, but on a recent day the drive-thru was empty. Finally, two people masked in a brown SUV crossed without waiting. With hundreds of deaths reported every day, students returning to class and football teams preparing to play, Texas leaders who have faced testing shortages during much of the pandemic are now facing the reverse problem: not enough takers.

“We don’t have enough people stepping forward,” said Republican US Governor Greg Abbott.

The number of coronavirus tests performed each day in Texas fell by the thousands in August, mirroring national trends which have seen daily test averages in the United States drop nearly 9% since the end of July, according to the COVID Tracking Project. The problem is dwindling demand: Test centers like CentroMed are no longer inundated with long queues that stretch out on blocks, or close hours earlier because tests run out.

The pullback comes as the United States has passed 5 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and is closing in on 170,000 deaths. This threatens to put the United States even further behind other countries that have handled the pandemic better, in part thanks to more aggressive testing.

The trend worries health experts who fear Texas could blindly fly in the fall if it doesn’t increase testing. Texas undertook one of the fastest reopenings in the United States in May, but withdrew weeks later in the face of massive outbreaks, which ultimately led Abbott to impose a nationwide mask order. state after previously saying it would not.

At one point, an overwhelmed hospital on the Texas border was airlifting COVID-19 patients hundreds of miles north in search of open beds, and Houston this month began threatening $ 250 fines. US to not wear face coverings in an attempt to drop infection numbers.

In recent weeks, things have improved, including a nearly 40% drop in hospitalizations since the July peak. But deaths remain high and doctors in some areas still say they are still running out of steam. Texas has averaged more than 210 new reported deaths per day over the past two weeks, according to the COVID Tracking Project. On Saturday, he reported 238 deaths. Overall, the state has recorded more than 9,800 deaths.

The moving average of people who test positive for the virus in Texas is stubbornly high at 16% – a number that in itself could be a sign of insufficient testing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a positivity rate of less than 10% is an indicator that a state has robust testing. Abbott said unless Texas hits that number, bars will likely remain closed.

Other southern states hit by the virus this summer are also seeing improvements, including Alabama. The intensive care units are unfortunately still full, but the average number of new confirmed cases each day has fallen below 1,000, compared to 1,800 in mid-July.

It is not known why testing has dropped, although many parts of the country are still experiencing severe epidemics. Health experts suspect that some Americans, jaded by the images of long test lines and the possibility of results taking a week or more, decide not to bother unless they are sick. Others have suggested that conflicting messages about the disease – like US President Donald Trump’s recent false claim that 99% of COVID-19 cases are harmless – could deter people from seeking testing.

“The correct answer would be because we have less COVID, fewer people have symptoms. A bad answer could be that people gave up because it takes a long time, ”said Dr. Junda Woo, medical director of San Antonio Metro Health. “We have the data, but we don’t have a lot of answers behind the data.”

Some cities in Texas are now offering testing to virtually everyone after months of restricting supplies limited to those with symptoms, and Abbott said the state is working on rapid virus tests for nursing homes and nursing homes. schools. Some students are already back in classrooms and in football-obsessed Texas, which has by far the highest number of high school football players in the country at around 170,000, practices are underway.

“At this point, everyone’s a guinea pig,” said Jessica Light, a professor at Texas A&M University, who ultimately decided to send her 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son back to class when the school opened. school Tuesday. “Teachers, staff, students, parents. Because we don’t know exactly how it’s going to work. ”

Sam Chama is anxious because his girlfriend’s 5-year-old son is about to enter kindergarten in a few weeks in Austin. As a former elementary school worker, he knows how easily young children spread germs even with the best of precautions.

And starting the year with virtual learning, says the 35-year-old geologist, is just buying time with the hope that things will get better soon. He wonders: what if it doesn’t?

“It assumes that there will be a decline or some type of control, which I don’t think will happen,” he said.

Associated Press reporters Desiree Mathurin in Atlanta, Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Kim Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama, and Eric Gay in San Antonio contributed to this report.

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