SAN ANTONIO (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Anyone can get a coronavirus test at the CentroMed clinic in San Antonio, but on a recent day, the drive-thru was empty. Finally two masked people in a maroon SUV pulled straight on through with no wait.
With hundreds of deaths reported each day, students returning to class and football teams charging ahead with plans to play, Texas leaders who grappled with testing shortages for much of the pandemic are now facing the opposite problem: not enough takers.
“We’re not having enough people step forward,” Gov. Greg Abbott said.
The number of coronavirus tests being done each day in Texas has dropped by the thousands in August, mirroring nationwide trends that has seen daily testing averages in the U.S. fall nearly 9% since the end of July, according to The COVID Tracking Project. The problem is dwindling demand: Testing centers like CentroMed are no longer inundated by long lines that stretch for blocks, or closing hours early because tests run out.
The dropoff comes as the U.S. has surpassed 5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and is closing in on 170,000 deaths. It threatens to put the U.S. even further behind other countries that have better managed the pandemic, in part, through more aggressive testing.
The trend worries health experts who fear that Texas risks flying blind into the fall if it doesn’t increase testing. Texas embarked on one of the fastest reopenings in the U.S. in May but retreated weeks later in the face of massive outbreaks, ultimately leading Abbott to impose a statewide mask order after previously saying he wouldn’t.
At one point, one overwhelmed hospital on the Texas border was airlifting COVID-19 patients hundreds of miles north in search of open beds, and Houston this month began threatening $250 fines for not wearing face coverings in an effort to drive down infection numbers.
In recent weeks, things have improved, including a nearly 40% drop in hospitalizations since July’s peak. But deaths remain high, and doctors in some parts still say they’re still stretched. Texas is averaging more than 210 reported new deaths a day over the past two weeks, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
On Saturday, the state reported 238 deaths, bring the total to 9,840.
As of Saturday afternoon, the state has a total of 528,838 cases of COVID-19, with 8,245 reported that day.
The rolling average of people who test positive for the virus in Texas is stubbornly elevated at 16% — a figure that itself could be a sign of insufficient testing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said a positivity rate under 10% is an indicator that a state has robust testing. Abbott has said that unless Texas gets below that number, bars are likely to stay shut.
Other states in the South clobbered by the virus this summer are also seeing improvements, including Alabama. Intensive care units remain frustratingly full there, but the average new confirmed cases each day has dropped below 1,000, from 1,800 in mid-July.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)