UT-Austin COVID-19 testing demand jumps as campus availability remains limited

Samantha Greyson, News Reporter

UT’s COVID-19 testing availability is booked three days in advance despite the University upping its testing capacity to offer 15,000 tests in the first week of school. This follows UT’s requirement that all students get a viral test within 72 hours of arriving in Austin.

UT sent an email Aug. 9 requiring all students receive a COVID-19 viral test within 72 hours of arriving in Austin or starting classes. However, the University announced Monday it would extend the deadline to submit test results to Friday. Students who test positive must isolate at home, according to the letter.

While there is no formal enforcement of the testing requirement, University spokesperson Eliska Padilla said students are encouraged to get tested to maintain the safety of themselves and their peers. 

“All students complying will help minimize the introduction of new cases to our campus community, reducing the likelihood of disruption from missing class due to illness or exposure or the implementation of further restrictions,” Padilla said.

Jessica Kilma, director of proactive community testing, said if students can’t get tested in accordance with the three-day mark, they should get tested sometime within the first week of classes.

“Any test is better than no test, even if it might be a day or two late past the first class day,” Kilma said. “The goal is to get everybody tested throughout the beginning of school, better late than never.”

In response to increased testing demand brought on by the start of the fall semester and the Delta variant’s spread that has sent Austin back into Stage 5 COVID-19 threat level, the University will offer 3,000 tests a day this coming week to meet demands. This week last year, the University administered 976 tests, according to the UT Austin COVID-19 dashboard

Kilma said the University will use an undisclosed outside vendor under contract with the University to offer these additional tests this week, and students can schedule tests through the UHS and PCT websites. 

English sophomore Allison Protass plans to get tested in Lake Travis, where her parents live, because PCT availability doesn’t fit her schedule.

“As of right now, I’m probably going to try and get tested on Tuesday … and hope for the best,” Protass said. “That’s the first free day that I have just because I’m still working and have other responsibilities.”

Protass said while the testing requirement is a good idea on the University’s part, it may not be as effective as hoped. 

“A testing requirement is super important, but I also don’t know if it’s going to do much,” Protass said. “It just kind of puts a lot on us to go get tested when in reality we could be exposed … any day.”

The University is not currently accepting walk-up appointments but hopes to provide that availability eventually, Kilma said.

“If you’re looking to book an appointment today, the next available (appointment) may be three working days from now, because of this crunch time and this high demand period,” Kilma said. “The goal would be to shorten that time obviously and I don’t think that this will be sustained for long and I think that’s really important, that this is just a temporary pinch.”