Demand for COVID-19 testing leads to increased traffic in South Lamar

AUSTIN (KXAN) – If you’ve recently driven south on South Lamar Boulevard near Bluebonnet Lane, you’ve probably noticed a multitude of cars with flashing lights on in the right lane.

As the city of Austin returns to Stage 4 COVID-19 risk levels and the omicron variant sweeps through central Texas, demands for testing have increased dramatically in the region. This is the kind of demand that clinics like Grand Ave Pharmacy strive to stay on top of in their drugstores and mobile testing sites.

But with increased interest in COVID-19 testing, long queues and saved traffic, as seen at the South Lamar Driving Mobile Clinic of Grand Ave Pharmacy and the Driving Pop-up Clinic of Nomi Health at the Long Center.

“A month ago, [Grand Ave Pharmacy locations] were doing between 700 or even 600 to 700 tests a day, that was pretty average, ”said pharmacist and owner Dr Chris Adlakha. “Right now we’re producing between 5,000 and 7,000 a day. “

This spike in testing requests correlates with a significant increase in the positivity rate among test samples collected by Grand Ave Pharmacy, he said. For the majority of the pandemic, Adlakha said 1-3% of tests performed would come back positive; now that range is hovering closer to 15-20%.

A 24-hour drive-thru pharmacy on S. Lamar Boulevard has seen an increase in demands for testing amid the spread of the omicron variant. The Grand Ave Pharmacy, which oversees the clinic site, said their locations average between 5,000 and 7,000 tests per day.
(KXAN Photo / Billy Gates)

To meet demand, Grand Ave Pharmacy operates around the clock off South Lamar and has staggered staff shifts, Adlakha said. However, the effects of these long queues are now being felt on some businesses in the region in the form of increased congestion and, at times, limited access for customers to enter their parking lots.

“I know we have had traffic problems with lines and people trying to take a test,” Adlakha said, later adding: “We are trying. We are working directly with the city, we are working with the control of the traffic and even with the police, everyone really came together to try to make this as efficient as possible.

In the middle of traffic, a sign placed in front of Sukha Yoga and Maha Coffee asks those looking for COVID-19 tests to refrain from blocking their parking lots. Even though she has spent hours personally directing traffic away from her stores, owner Erinn Leigh said she believes it still costs hundreds of lost revenue every week.

“Whether it’s here on South Lamar or anywhere else around Austin right now, [city and pharmacy leaders] really should think about the future as it would save everyone a lot of stress, a lot of fuss and a lot of communication problems.

erinn leigh, owner, sukha yoga and maha coffee

Leigh and her partner, Mark Herron, have been business owners in South Lamar for more than seven years, two of which have spent overcoming the hurdles of the coronavirus pandemic. But when Lamar’s queues started blocking entrances to her studio and cafe about two weeks ago, she said it exacerbated an already difficult time for small businesses.

She said she spent hours driving traffic away from her parking lot to greet customers trying to get in and out. Still, she said the 24-hour nature of the testing site, coupled with the normal morning and evening rush hours, made the past two weeks chaotic.

As to how to remedy this situation, Leigh said it would take a concerted effort on the part of those tested, as well as city and pharmacy leaders, to alleviate the situation.

“It takes a group effort. People who drive need to be careful and mindful of their surroundings, but more importantly, the city of Austin needs to realize that our tax dollars are going to provide support, and therefore they should bring someone here. to help the company that runs the test sites, ”she said. “Whether it’s here in South Lamar or anywhere else around Austin right now, they should really think about the future because it would save everyone a lot of stress, a lot of fuss and a lot of trouble. communication.”

Currently, Adlakha has said that a combination of Austin police officers and private security services are operating at test sites to facilitate movement. He said between three and six security guards or guards are stationed at each location of the facility.

Adlakha added that he met with city transport staff and a city permit official on Wednesday to review the site plans and develop a more effective strategy to direct traffic through the facility and minimize its traffic. impact on roads.

“The last thing we want to do is have the business of another business be negatively affected by people trying to take a COVID test,” he said.

City officials of the 3-1-1 service confirmed receiving a service request related to traffic safeguards near the test facility. In an emailed statement, officials from the Austin Department of Transportation said the city is working with clinic leaders to combat the impacts of traffic around the Long Center and South Lamar.

“Austin Transportation staff are working with COVID-19 test providers to help them keep operations running smoothly while ensuring public safety,” officials said, adding, “near the COVID test location -19 from Bluebonnet Lane and South Lamar Boulevard, the supplier will adjust its operations for after afternoon rush hours and employ officers to better direct traffic. “

As for the changes she hopes to see implemented, Leigh called on city and drugstore leaders to expand officers’ presence to help control and direct traffic. She also suggested redirecting the clinic entrance to Bluebonnet Lane, where there is on-street parking where people can queue rather than an active traffic lane.

“I think the city, as well as the private company that runs the test site, should collaborate and use their resources to support everyone affected along this route and really come up with something different,” he said. she declared. “Especially if we’re going to be living with COVID. It’s not necessarily going to go away, and so we have to learn to live with it in a more normalized way so that we can go on living and not be in these heightened states of chaos. “

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