Starting immediately, people seeking a COVID-19 test in Bexar County no longer need a doctor’s note to be tested at a drive-up testing site at Joe Freeman Coliseum, Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said Friday.

“We went with the least restrictive testing criteria that we could,” Bridger said during a livestreamed interview event with the Rivard Report.

An online self-screening tool, available here, asks users about their symptoms and potential exposure to the novel coronavirus. If a user’s answers indicate the possibility of infection, Bridger said, they will be directed to call a phone number to set up an appointment to get a free test at the Freeman Coliseum.

Previously, appointments were not granted to people who did not have a doctor’s note or pre-approval from the City’s Metropolitan Health District.

“The new normal changes by the hour,” Bridger said. “This is just another perfect example of how we are changing every day.”

Patients also can go to their own doctors to see if they can get tested at the physician’s office or go to an emergency clinic, but they are encouraged to call ahead first.

The Freeman Coliseum is not intended to be the only testing site, Bridger said, as the City and Bexar County have plans to open more as needed.

Unlike many communities, San Antonio has received regular shipments of tests from the federal government – 5,000 a week for the past three weeks, Bridger told City Council on Thursday. The City sends some of those tests – 1,500 a week – with the cities of Austin and El Paso.

That’s a total of 10,500 for San Antonio, yet only 1,500 tests have been administered at Freeman. (Other private labs in Bexar County have also tested approximately 1,500 people, said City officials.)

By loosening the requirements for testing at the drive-thru site, Bridger expects there to be a significant increase in the numbers of local residents tested. Previously, the only groups eligible to be tested at the Freeman Coliseum site without a doctor’s authorization were first responders, health care personnel working in hospitals, and VIA bus drivers.

The testing requirements were stricter previously because San Antonio initially was trying to track community spread – that is, spread of the virus through means not related to travel outside the area or close contact with an infected person.

For the first time on Thursday, the number of community-spread coronavirus cases outnumbered travel-related positives.

“Now we’re testing because we want to be able to make some predictions for our hospitals so that they can be prepared and not overwhelmed with an onslaught of people who need hospitalization,” Bridger said.

As coronavirus continues to spread through the community, people must behave as if they are carriers of the virus, she added, because some people infected with the virus have mild or no symptoms.

Bridger also said that while hospital-grade masks should be prioritized for first responders and health care providers, the use of lower-grade masks in public spaces may help limit the spread of the virus.

“The guidance I’m [hearing] today is, well, if you want cover your face with a bandana or a homemade mask of some sort … it might actually decrease these asymptomatic folks from passing the virus to others,” Bridger said.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org