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Asymptomatic people can be tested for free as part of new Bexar Co. initiative kicking off next week

Metro Health officials say working to detect the virus in those without symptoms is key to suppressing it.

SAN ANTONIO — With the coronavirus still a threat in the Alamo City, local leaders hope a new initiative starting next week will encourage asymptomatic residents to get tested for the virus for free.

The new testing effort was announced Friday evening, and is a collaboration between Metro Health, Community Labs and BioBridge Global, the city says. The test is an FDA-approved nasal test which Metro Health officials say has a high degree of effectiveness when it comes to detecting COVID-19 in people, even if they aren't showing symptoms. 

"There are so many silent spreaders out there," said Graham Weston, board chairman of Community Labs, who added that he himself was infected in March by his then-asymptomatic son. "This is a great way to eliminate and suppress the virus even further."

Weston says the "state-of-the-art lab" will be able to provide results in just 19 hours.

The new lab is set for a soft launch on Monday, at Cuellar Community Center, where it will be testing for no charge from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. On Tuesday, the lab will be operating at Ramirez Community Center for the same window of time, and on Wednesday it will be at Freeman Coliseum from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Those planning to go to Freeman must make an appointment in advance by calling (830)391-8559. 

Later, starting on Oct. 12, the lab is expected to provide daily testing, the city says. 

Weston said the initiative has been in the works for "about 10 weeks," and focused its initial testing on the Somerset ISD population, where he said about 1,000 were tested. 

Metro Health Medical Director Junda Woo says it's key that the region will have a new way for more asymptomatic residents to get tested, because you never know when you may be infectious and spreading COVID-19. 

"We ask everyone to assume that you might be infectious, and that's one of the key reasons we ask everybody to wear a mask at all times, because you don't know," Woo said. "This is a way to know."

As of Friday, 58,039 Bexar County residents have been diagnosed with the virus, and 1,138 have died from COVID-19-related complications.