Testing for the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, in San Antonio no longer will require samples to be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta.
Local health officials told Bexar County Commissioners Court on Tuesday that the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District has test kits available for people with symptoms of the novel coronavirus that will give results in two days instead of the three or four from the CDC.
Metro Health’s Medical Director Dr. Junda Woo said the tests are rumored to cost $2,400, which would be partially offset by insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare.
Woo said the cost of the test makes “health access a real issue,” but that oftentimes when it comes to new and expensive drugs, pharmaceutical companies have programs where people can apply for low or no-cost testing. The test will be administered at no cost for people without insurance who are seen at a clinic run by Metro Health.
As more tests kits become available, they will be distributed directly to area hospitals without the need to go through Metro Health.
Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) on Tuesday sent requests to insurance providers and health care organizations operating in Texas asking them to waive costs associated with testing and diagnosis of COVID-19.
“We must ensure no Texan is denied access to testing resources relating to coronavirus,” Abbott said, noting that TDI is requesting insurers to also cover all necessary medical equipment and supplies, and to waive requirements for pre-authorization for testing and referrals.
Some Texas health insurance providers have already started waiving the cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, Aetna, and United Health Insurance.
Woo noted the health department and local physicians will “rule out common infections first before [using] a scarce and expensive test.”
“If we know you don’t have the flu or anything else on the respiratory [infection] panel and you are sick enough,” you will be tested, Woo said.
Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) said the cost of COVID-19 testing is “unconscionable” given the rapidly spreading virus is a public health crisis.
“If Korea can [organize] drive-through testing for 50,000 people, America can do better,” Calvert said.
Texas confirmed its 24th case of COVID-19 in a Collin County man on Monday. There have been 27 known cases in the state, of which 11 are people who were required by the federal government to quarantine at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. No cases have yet been identified among Bexar County residents.
Woo said that because this coronavirus is new, the health community is not sure it will wane in the summer. Metro Health is not recommending canceling large events and gatherings yet, she said, but senior citizens should take special care of their hygiene.
“We have sent messages to senior centers and the Department of Human Services because elders are one of our vulnerable groups,” Woo said. “We need our seniors to be meticulous about washing their hands, staying away from people who are sick, and not touching their faces.”
Local officials also are still unsure of when the next wave of cruise ship evacuees will arrive in San Antonio to be quarantined at Lackland Air Force Base. Assistant Emergency Management Coordinator Scott Lampright said they had been told to expect more than 200 individuals from Texas and surrounding states.