San Antonio Officials Open New COVID-19 Testing Sites, Call for Federal Help to Secure Antivirals

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San Antonio officials will open three new COVID-19 testing sites by Monday as the coronavirus once again surges across the city and concerned residents demand testing.

“With the increased demand for people looking for COVID-19 tests, we know we need to do more – and we are,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at a press conference Thursday.

As cases mount, Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff also called on the federal government yesterday to help him get more remdesivir, a COVID-19 antiviral drug, to treat patients.

People line up at the Community Labs COVID-19 test site in the Alamo College District Support Operations building in North Alamo on Thursday, January 6, 2022.

Jerry Lara / San Antonio Express-News

They made the request hours before the Metropolitan Health District reported 2,358 new coronavirus cases, bringing the seven-day average to 3,116, down from 688 the week before.

The number of patients hospitalized with the virus has also jumped, from 352 to 569 in the past week.

Two weeks ago, on Christmas Eve, 198 COVID-19 patients were in hospitals in the region.

Fueled by the fast-spreading omicron variant, the current peak puts the city’s testing ability to the test. Queues outside the testing sites meandered around the block in parts of Bexar County. Free places for testing this week were hard to find.

“While some test lines can be long, we have the ability for everyone to get tested,” said Claude Jacob, director of Metro Health. “We hope these additional test sites will help meet and reduce current wait times.”

One-year-old Wendell Carter reacts by being dabbed by her mother, Monisha Jarmon, left, and sister, Laresha Jarmon at the Community Labs COVID-19 test site at the Alamo College District Support Operations building in North Alamo, Thursday, Jan.19.  6, 2022.

One-year-old Wendell Carter reacts by being dabbed by her mother, Monisha Jarmon, left, and sister, Laresha Jarmon at the Community Labs COVID-19 test site at the Alamo College District Support Operations building in North Alamo, Thursday, Jan.19. 6, 2022.

Jerry Lara / Staff Photographer

New sites

Community Labs, a nonprofit provider of rapid coronavirus tests in San Antonio, will operate the new sites under a renewed contract with the city.

Standing outside an Alamo Colleges District Support Operations building at 2222 N. Alamo St. – the first of three new test sites – Nirenberg said the city planned to announce three more sites within a day or two.

Community Labs opened the North Alamo Street site on Thursday and planned to begin testing at a second site on Friday – the Palo Alto College Performing Arts Center at 1400 Villaret Blvd. on the south side. It will open the third location Monday at St. Philip’s College on the East Side.

All three will operate Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Testing will be free to the public, with results expected within 24 hours.

The city also has 17 free test sites thanks to an agreement with California-based Curative. But residents have reported long wait times in many places as demand for testing has skyrocketed.

Krystal Guajardo, a mother of four, stood in line outside the Alamo Colleges District building on Thursday morning with her teenage daughter. She took the high school student at the Community Lab site for tests after being exposed to the virus during football training.

“We haven’t been able to find any other openings anywhere,” said Guajardo, 36. “The curative appointments were booked until next week. There was no availability.

Wolff, in attendance for the Community Labs announcement, noted the winding line of people waiting for tests outside the Alamo College District building. He said the omicron “spreads seven times faster” than the delta variant, which hit last summer.

“There probably isn’t a person in this group who hasn’t been around someone who has had COVID – and probably didn’t know it,” Wolff said.

In New Braunfels, Curative temporarily closed its city hall testing site on Thursday after staff members were exposed to the virus.

“We are doing this to contain any potential risk and spread to the community,” Terra Williams, director of growth for Curative Texas, said in a city press release.

City manager Erik Walsh said 845 of 12,500 city government employees are at home after testing positive for COVID-19, showing symptoms or coming into close contact with people infected with the virus.

“Right now, we have the largest number of employees absent due to COVID since the start of the pandemic,” he said.

“Operations were not affected,” he added. “We are watching closely. We are ready. We are planning.

Cari Molina and her husband David show their registration QR code for COVID-19 testing at the Community Labs site of the Alamo College District Support Operations building in North Alamo on Thursday, Jan.6, 2022.

Cari Molina and her husband David show their registration QR code for COVID-19 testing at the Community Labs site of the Alamo College District Support Operations building in North Alamo on Thursday, Jan.6, 2022.

Jerry Lara / San Antonio Express-News

Rise in power

Community Labs has the capacity to deliver 40,000 tests per day, said Sal Webber, president of the nonprofit, founded in September 2020 by Rackspace Technology co-founder Graham Weston and two local philanthropic organizations, the Tobin Endowment and the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation.

“We can do better if the city needs it,” Webber said, looking at the line of test takers waiting outside the Alamo College District building.

Under Metro Health’s earlier contract with Community Labs, the nonprofit administered 134,750 free tests between October 2020 and June, for which the city paid $ 4.7 million. The tests cost the city $ 35 each, which Community Labs said was below the mid-market rate.

Jacob of Metro Health said the city will continue to pay $ 35 per test. It expects Community Labs to perform approximately 1,000 tests per day at each of its testing sites.

The city will foot the bill with a mix of local, state and federal funding. The contract ends in April, although the city has the option of renewing it.

People photograph a QR code to register for COVID-19 tests at the community labs site of the Alamo College District Support Operations building in North Alamo on Thursday, January 6, 2022. As of noon, more than 700 tests were carried out administered with results ready within 24 hours.  This is one of three mass testing sites operated by Community Labs that support San Antonio Metro Health.  The site will operate Monday to Friday from 8 a.m.  at 18 o'clock

People photograph a QR code to register for COVID-19 tests at the community labs site of the Alamo College District Support Operations building in North Alamo on Thursday, January 6, 2022. As of noon, more than 700 tests were carried out administered with results ready within 24 hours. This is one of three mass testing sites operated by Community Labs that support San Antonio Metro Health. The site will operate Monday through Friday at 8 a.m. at 18 o’clock

Jerry Lara / San Antonio Express-News

Shortage of remdesivir

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra on Thursday, Nirenberg and Wolff called for help from the federal government to deliver remdesivir to regional infusion centers in Texas, including one in San Antonio.

“Remdesivir is now approved by the FDA and is no longer distributed free of charge by the federal government, thus limiting access to community infusion centers,” wrote Nirenberg and Wolff. “The resumption of federal distribution of this drug would make it accessible to ambulatory emergency response teams who administer the now rare infusions of monoclonal antibodies.”

They noted the limited availability of monoclonal antibodies and treatments, which are effective against the “now predominant omicron variant”.

Citing the current increase in COVID-19 cases and a study attributing to remdesivir its effectiveness in outpatient treatment, they said the drug “could play a vital role in preventing disease progression and reducing hospital admissions. “.

“Remdesivir offers the potential to offset this current shortage of other treatment agents during this time of sharply increasing infection rates in the United States due to the omicron variant,” they said.

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