Wearing a black mask and a winter jacket as she stood outside of the Alamo Colleges District Support Operations Building, San Antonio resident Jackie Alfaro waited patiently in a line of about 40 people to get a COVID-19 PCR test Thursday morning.

Just a day earlier, she had tried to get tested at a rapid testing site near Culebra Road, but the wait time at the first-come-first-serve clinic was more than two hours long. After hearing about three new testing sites opening locally Thursday, Alfaro sought a test at one of the new sites after a possible exposure.

“This line is moving really fast,” she said from the middle of the line. “I’ve only been here 15 minutes.”

After days of long lines at existing testing sites and skyrocketing numbers of new COVID-19 cases driven by the highly contagious omicron variant, city officials moved to reactivate a partnership with the nonprofit Community Labs — one that had lapsed last year in June as demand for testing fell — to open additional sites.

The three new free testing sites are located at the Alamo Colleges District Support Operations Building, Palo Alto College and St. Philip’s College. The Palo Alto College site is scheduled to open Friday at 8 a.m., and the St. Philip’s College site will open Monday.

Community Labs President Sal Webber told the San Antonio Report on Thursday that he and others from the nonprofit began reaching out to city representatives in mid-December about utilizing their services to expand city testing as the demand for tests swelled before the holidays. Earlier this week, Webber expressed frustration that he had not heard back from city representatives about reestablishing their partnership, even as multiple people called him to complain there weren’t enough testing sites around the city.

In response to questions Monday about the availability of testing facilities, Metropolitan Health District Director Claude Jacob said, “Leadership is still assessing the best options regarding testing capacity in the city.” Shortly thereafter, a Community Labs spokeswoman said Metro Health officials had reached out to Webber to discuss expanding testing.

Asked Thursday if the city had considered partnering with the nonprofit any sooner than this week, Jacob said, “Define sooner.”

“We have a contract with Community Labs; we’ve literally turned around and activated it, so this is why you’re seeing us here today,” he said. “We’re responding to the demand. In the spirit of the holidays, and making sure that we respond to folks, this is what you’re seeing here.”

The revived partnership between the city and the nonprofit comes just as a major source of Community Labs’ funding was about to dry up, Webber confirmed. Its partnership with local school districts — paid for through the Texas Division of Emergency Management — was extended earlier this week through the end of March, according to Webber. The partnership had been set to expire Jan. 31 prior to the omicron wave.

With the addition of the new testing sites, the nonprofit will help the city expand its testing capacity by an additional 40,000 people per day, Webber said, including 15,000 to 18,000 students and educators who can be tested at schools. The contract with the city calls for Community Labs to receive $35 per test, Webber said. The funding from the city for Community Labs will come from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funding, said Rudy Arispe, Metro Health’s public relations manager.

“We have these three [new sites] that have been announced so far, but we’re looking at three more locations as well,” Webber said. “We’re evaluating day by day. Is that enough or not? I think the idea is we want to get [out] as many available tests as we can provide.”

The three new testing locations will be open from 8 a.m. through 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The locations of other free testing sites can be found here. No appointment is necessary, and testing is done on a walk-up basis only, with results provided within 24 hours.

  • Alamo Colleges District Support Operations Building, 2222 N. Alamo St. 78215
    • Opened Thursday, Jan. 6
  • Palo Alto College Building 23, 1400 W. Villaret Blvd. 78224  
    • Opens Friday, Jan. 7 at 8 a.m.
  • St. Philip’s College, 1801 Martin Luther King Dr. San Antonio, TX 78203
    • Opens Monday, Jan. 10 at 8 a.m.

As local COVID-19-related hospitalizations have jumped from 24 patients at the end of December to 569 patients as of Wednesday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said Thursday they have written a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra “regarding the request for federal management and distribution of remdesivir for early outpatient treatment to avoid hospitalizations and deaths.”

Nireberg continued to encourage residents to get their COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots, as well as to continue wearing a well-fitted mask in public spaces.

“Because of the increased demand for people seeking to get a COVID-19 test, we know we need to do more — and we are,” Nirenberg said. “… With these added sites, we now have the capacity to test many more people per day.”

This article has been updated to clarify that the City of San Antonio’s contract with Community Labs was reactivated and was not a new contract.

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett is the Science & Utilities reporter for the San Antonio Report.