The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District opened a new coronavirus testing site at Freeman Coliseum on Wednesday that has the capacity to administer up to 16 tests per hour.

The new site replaces the City-run drive-thru at the South Texas Medical Center that offered testing to health care workers, first responders, and seniors over age 60 who have a temperature of 99.6 degrees or higher, and expands testing availability to include VIA bus drivers and anyone pre-approved by a doctor.

In addition to expanding testing availability to the San Antonio community, Anita Kurian, assistant director of Metro Health’s communicable disease division, said changes have been made to the referral system aimed at decreasing the confusion over who can be tested and how to get a test.

At the new site, patients are seen by appointment, and their doctor will need to have contacted Metro Health in advance to refer them for a new coronavirus test, Kurian said. “Previously testing was restricted to a small group, so [drive-thru] testing worked, but the new site will make testing more easily accessible to everybody in our community,” and make the referral process less confusing.

Kurian said a lot of the initial confusion surrounding testing came about because of the lack of available test kits throughout the city and the lack of knowledge about where to get tested.

Often, patients went to their primary care provider to inquire about testing but were told to contact Metro Health, which was not testing the general public at the time. Other times people would be referred for testing, but accessing the test was difficult, if not impossible because they didn’t fit the initial criteria.

When 74-year-old Candy Wagner went to see her primary care physician for what she thought was “exacerbated allergies,” her physician recommended she get tested for coronavirus. The physician then took a culture for what they said was a new coronavirus test, but when the results returned, the doctor informed her he had administered the wrong test, Wagner said.

“After that, the doctor said he thought I should just act like I have the virus and go home and sequester myself,” she said, because they didn’t have another test available and they didn’t want anyone else to potentially be infected.

Wagner said the doctor told her last week that if she still felt symptoms in the next few days, she could contact them to schedule a test. When she called on Wednesday, she was told there were no tests available, and she could try again the next day to see if the situation had changed.

“Mostly I am just worried I infected someone,” Wagner said. “I told people from church and who I am close to that I might test positive, and they have been asking [me to confirm] and I haven’t been able to. It’s scary.”

Wagner’s daughter Jill told the Rivard Report that without an official coronavirus diagnosis, her family is worried they are not addressing her mother’s symptoms properly, or that she could have a completely different diagnosis.

Kurian said that while Metro Health has the capacity to test 160 people per day at the Freeman Coliseum site, the health department has the capacity to test only 200 total people as of Wednesday. But hospital systems, UT Health San Antonio, and private labs also are testing, and doctors also can refer patients there, she said.

“[Metro Health’s] pop-up site is meant to minimize the number of people showing up in health care facilities” in order to minimize risk of spread, Kurian said.

Appointments will be staggered to ensure that those referred aren’t spending a long time in lines and in close contact with other patients or health care professionals.

The expansion of testing criteria comes after Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that Texas would have enough coronavirus testing sites for 10,000 people to be tested for the virus weekly.

“People need to be prepared and not shocked that once widespread testing is implemented a lot more people are going to be testing positive,” he said.

On Tuesday, Metro Health reported 11 positive cases of travel-related novel coronavirus in San Antonio. Of the 11 positive cases, four were diagnosed in people who traveled outside of San Antonio, and four were people who were in close contact with someone who was already infected. Three cases are under investigation.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the Rivard Report.