As more San Antonians get vaccinated against COVID-19, Community Labs, the city’s largest coronavirus testing operation, has seen a shift in demand.
The San Antonio-based nonprofit announced Thursday it will not be conducting public COVID-19 tests on Memorial Day and will cease Saturday operations at its three public testing sites beginning next week. In a press release, the nonprofit pointed to a decrease in demand from the public as the reason for ending Saturday testing.
“As the vaccination rates continue to climb, we’re seeing a decrease in the numbers of people seeking COVID-19 screenings at the three community testing sites,” Community Labs President Sal Webber said in the press release. Currently, 42% of Bexar County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Though we’re closing our Saturday collections, Community Labs will continue providing free COVID-19 screenings weekdays as long as we’re needed,” Webber said.
Residents can get a free COVID-19 screening at community testing sites located at Rackspace Technology, the Ramirez Community Center, and the Cuellar Community Center on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Created with $2.5 million in funding from the 80|20 Foundation, the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, and The Tobin Endowment, Community Labs offers rapid COVID-19 screening in partnership with BioBridge Global and UT Health San Antonio.
Community Labs was initially aimed at testing targeted populations like in workplaces and schools. The nonprofit later partnered with the City to expand into offering testing for the general public.
“While we’re seeing a decrease in demand at the public sites, schools are increasing their screening requests as students return to campus,” Webber said.
As of May, the nonprofit was working with 262 schools, three public sites, and 27 businesses.
“Our priority has always been schools,” said Mary Ullmann Japhet, a Community Labs spokeswoman. “Our founders’ mission was to stand up a lab with the capacity to test thousands of samples a day … so that we could safely reopen schools and bring children back into the classroom where they learn more effectively. We knew that if children could go back to school, parents could go back to work and our economy could reopen.”
As more employers ready their staff for a return to the office, they are enlisting the help of Community Labs to do so as safely as possible, Webber said.
One of the first employers to partner with Community Labs to test its public-facing employees regularly for COVID-19 was Santikos Entertainment.
“We started testing 100% of our employees back in [fall] of 2020,” said Andrew Brooks, executive director of sales and marketing at Santikos Entertainment. “The safety of our guests and employees was our driving motivation to begin the weekly testing.”
Every employee is tested weekly, Brooks said. Santikos sees about 300-350 employees each week, he added.
“[Community Labs] enabled us to safely get our employees back to work while providing the community a safe escape from the crazy reality we lived this past year,” Brooks said.
Hotel Valencia, an upscale downtown hotel located on Houston Street, partnered with Community Labs earlier this year in order to be able to host different NBA teams, said Stacy Seaborn, director of sales and marketing for the hotel.
“We’ve used them for the last five months … on an as needed basis for groups that we have coming into the hotel,” Seaborn said. “[At first] it specifically was for NBA teams – part of the NBA protocols was that any staff member who was going to be servicing or coming in contact with the teams had to have a negative test 24 hours before.”
The hotel has utilized Community Labs about seven times to test its 60 employees at $50 per test, Seaborn said. Being able to utilize the Community Labs services has been very helpful to getting business back to normal, Seaborn said.
“It’s been a super easy, super quick process,” Seaborn said.
Despite a wane in public testing, Community Labs has consistently tested more people month over month since it launched, primarily at schools and workplaces, Webber said. That hasn’t changed, even as more people get vaccinated, he added.
“We’re [administering] between 40,000 and 50,000 tests a week right now,” Webber said. “We expect to see that same [rate] through the first week in June.”