Thanks to a collaboration between local non-profits and the county, Bastrop County residents in areas of high COVID-19 spread can take advantage of free nearby testing at a mobile testing clinic.
The mobile clinic is a self-contained unit that can be taken anywhere that it is needed. In September, the trailer was set up at the Smithville Recreation Center before it moved to Memorial Stadium in Cedar Creek, offering testing several days per week and vaccinations on Friday nights during football games.
COVAC formed in Bastrop County at the beginning of 2021 to promote vaccines and help support the county’s vaccine distribution efforts. Over the past nine months, the nonprofit continues to work to get people vaccinated against COVID-19, and now, provide testing opportunities in collaboration with the Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Bastrop County Cares and the St. David’s Foundation.
“We’re just trying to clamp down on the delta variant that’s running wild out here in Bastrop County,” COVAC executive director Madeline Eden said.
A grant application for this trailer was made over a year ago with the hope to turn it into a mobile vaccine clinic, Bastrop County deputy emergency director Christine Files said; however, due to supply chain restraints, the county wasn’t able to receive the trailer until August, in the middle of the delta variant surge when there was a need for a mobile testing clinic.
During the week of September 13, the site performed 350 tests with a positivity rate of 16%, Files said.
“That meant we had 56 folks that might not have otherwise gotten tested, and they were able to take preventative action to not spread that to other folks,” Files said.
The prior week, the testing site performed 210 tests with a high positivity rate around 35%. Smithville was chosen for the testing site because, in terms of new confirmed cases, the Smithville zip code was ranked fourth overall but first by population, Files said.
“Having that mobile trailer available for us was just a godsend,” Eden said. “We're able to analyze the data and determine where the viral prevalence is in our communities, then just deploy from there.”
In the spring, when there was a significant decrease in COVID-19 cases, Bastrop County was able to step back and let private healthcare providers do their work and pick up the efforts of testing and vaccination, Files said. However, when an increase in demand means the private providers can’t meet the need, the government needs to step in and help.
“We are still in this surge in Bastrop County with regards to the delta variant,” Files said in late September. “The private providers that we had in Bastrop County were getting overwhelmed, and we were hearing from folks that they were having to wait two or three days to get tested. Costs had become an issue to some people. So, we really felt that this was a need that really needed to be provided.”
Eden, a software engineer and data architect, said the wide availability of rapid testing is an effective way to bring surges under control: people can identify that they are infected, then they can quarantine and seek treatment if they are at risk for severe illness.
“Being able to access (testing) when you don't necessarily have the means, is the biggest and most effective tool in the toolbox when it comes to fighting the pandemic right now, next to being vaccinated,” she said.
It was a challenge getting case counts broken down by zip code, Eden said, since Bastrop County doesn’t have its own health department, Eden said, but the OEM has been able to help in getting case data to determine the prevalence of the virus in the county, and St. David’s also has connections with those working on data for the five-county Austin metro area.
“You take all that and pull it all together, you're able to really perform an analysis that shows you where work needs to be done,” Eden said. “If we're talking about being out of the pandemic ... however that outcome is achieved, it's going to be through the use of data: wide-scale testing data and data about who has and hasn't been vaccinated. We aren't actually practicing medicine, I still see what we're doing as a very important piece of resolving this pandemic long-term.”
COVAC also runs vaccine clinics all over Bastrop County, as well as in Caldwell County, and Eden encourages people to get vaccinated. More information about COVAC’s vaccination efforts is available at www.covac.info.
“As an organization, our job is basically to identify those individuals who we can persuade or who don’t have access to vaccines, or testing for that matter, and and try to facilitate that accessibility for them,” Eden said. “For now, folks should keep wearing their masks and get vaccinated, and tell everyone they know to get vaccinated. ... Also, if you think you're sick, then get tested. If you test positive with COVID, quarantine yourself.”