Tarrant County's public health director revealed on Tuesday the county's new efforts to get a handle on COVID-19.
During the Tarrant County Commissioner's Court Tuesday morning, public health director Vinny Taneja, said the county's pilot program will offer at-home testing kits for up to 50 people a day. The tests will be mailed to people who qualify for tests through the Tarrant County COVID-19 screening website.
"We don't want anybody to have any barriers for testing and that's the reason why we're adding these tools so that people can have different choices in different option," said Taneja.
Full coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak and how it impacts you
He said some of the feedback they've received was from people who wanted more options for testing if they can't make it to a drive-thru site because of lack of availability or location.
"There's a lot of learning involved. How to mail it out in a timely fashion. What are the cutoff times? Do people actually do the test and send it to the lab? Does the results come back to us? So there's a lot to learn with all of that," Taneja said. "We want to try it on for a couple of weeks, and then slowly maybe we'll expand capacity, depending on demand."
He said the other challenge is the expense. While it's free for the user, Taneja said the at-home test costs the government about $130 each, and that includes postage. The drive-thru tests cost about $100 according to Taneja.
He said they can mail out the kits within a day or so. The vendors they're using will either send a saliva or nasal swab test kit that comes with instructions.
"You actually set up a Zoom call with a provider with that company and they observe you collecting the sample, they walk you through the process on how to collect the sample and then you mail it in. It comes with a bag and prepaid label," Taneja said of the saliva kit.
He said the nasal swab doesn't require observation, just written instructions.
On Tuesday, the county also launched a self-reporting tool for people to upload their positive COVID-19 results.
"You've heard me express frustration that when data delays and data dumps happen. Some of those cases are 30 days old, 60 days old we found even some 90 days old being reported. What do you do with that? You know, the contact tracing effort is best within the first 14 days, so to overcome that challenge, we've come up with this self-reporting tool that if you know that you tested positive, then report it by yourself," Taneja said.
He said they're only focused on positive results but people can upload their negative results if they want to.
"We're looking for positives because our effort is case finding. The more we can find cases, the better we can provide our contact tracing services around those and try to lockdown COVID," he said.
The county public health director also said they have a team of people dedicated to weeding out duplications.
"If there's anybody who has been reported more than once it's taken out," Taneja said.
On Tuesday, Tarrant County also rolled out a new campaign called "Answer the Call" because they've had issues getting people to pick up the phone for contact tracers.
"A couple of weeks ago, we had 44,000 cases. And out of those, you know 47% we just could not reach for one reason or the other," Taneja said.
He said the many didn't respond after multiple tries and they even sent out letters giving the option for the online survey.
The county believes people may think it's either a scammer calling or they don't want to give out their information.
"We're trying to raise awareness, so that people know that this is a real thing and it's very important so that we can get through this COVID pandemic and try to push down the cases as much as we can, because when people participate, it does work, contact tracing has the ability to lower case volume in our communities, it's a control strategy," Taneja said.