County offering free COVID-19 tests for uninsured, indigent

Hays County residents who are uninsured and/or indigent are now able to access free testing for the COVID-19 virus if they are displaying symptoms.

Tammy Crumley, director of Countywide Operations, told the Commissioners Court on Tuesday that testing would begin April 29 at the WIC office adjacent to the Health Department on Broadway Street in San Marcos.
Other locations elsewhere in the county could soon be added, she said.

Like other incarnations of the diagnostic testing, no one can simply show up and get tested. Instead, they are instructed to call the county’s COVID-19 hotline at 512-393-5525. Then they will be directed to contact the health department to undergo screening. Next, they will be contacted by Live Oak Health Partners who will make them an appointment. She stressed that there will be no deviation from that protocol.

County Judge Ruben Becerra opened up the court’s weekly update on the virus and the community’s response to it by reiterating his goal of uniformity throughout the messaging from municipal and county governments. “We have tried to be consistent countywide.”

He also said nothing the county can or will do will contradict Gov. Greg Abbott’s April 27 order that supersedes all existing orders. Becerra said he will continue his weekly phone calls with mayors, city managers and other officials from municipalities across the county; and that he’s also visited testing sites in Travis and Comal counties for ideas on conducting testing and other issues.

Concerning testing that is currently occurring, Pct. 4 Commissioner Walt Smith indicated some of the drive-through locations now open are not being heavily used.

“No one is showing up,” he said of some sites without specifying which. “They’re going to have to start laying off people and shutting down. They are not seeing the volume they expected.”

Smith said it is a “real crisis” in which health care workers find their jobs in jeopardy. “Nobody is going to the emergency room for a stubbed toe,” he said.

On the question of more testing sites, the court was divided as to the most beneficial locations. Becerra indicated another site along the Interstate 35 corridor, where most of the county’s population is clustered, but Smith said
he wants to know “where are the largest segments of the population that are not being tested,” which may well be in the west.

Discussions also included how to pinpoint “hot spots,” how to accomplish reopening the local economy and what people should do if they spot businesses not following guidelines on occupancy, social distancing and the like.

“How can we grab a map and start to dot the landscape with where the COVID-19 positives are or have been without leaning into identifying a person’s home address,” Becerra asked. He suggested using voting precincts to indicate positive cases.

Crumley said that’s in the works with a nod to adhering to HIPAA privacy laws.

Smith noted that some precincts in the western areas of the county are 100 square miles, compared to some in San Marcos, Kyle and Buda are one or two square miles. “I understand this question has been raised to state health services. I would anticipate some direction from them on this.”

Smith also said he expects more guidance from Abbott. “The document he put forth (in Monday’s news conference) has some pretty big holes in it that we’ll have to address at the local level.”

He said in the next week or two he would like to establish a task force calling on “strong business leaders” to offer their insights into various industries. He acknowledge the role of the recovery task force already in existence but
said, “at the end of the day, there are businesses that aren’t members of the chamber. Their client base might not be local but their workforce is.”

Also during the meeting, the county’s new Communication Manager Kim Hilsenbeck was introduced. She will replace Laureen Chernow, who is retiring at the end of the month.

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