UPDATE (July 7, 2020) -- The City of El Paso tells ABC-7 since this story first aired last week it has added four additional lines to support the phone line, five additional personnel and more equipment. A city spokesperson says more personnel are anticipated to be added as daily testing has increased 400 percent in the last two weeks.
ORIGINAL STORY: EL PASO, Texas -- The City of El Paso is urging people to get tested for Covid-19 as the Borderland sees a surge in new cases, but an ABC-7 I-Team investigation shows making an appointment can be challenging.
ABC-7 made 17 attempts over six days (see call log at the end of this article) to make an appointment by calling the city's drive thru testing appointment phone line (915) 212-0783, as advertised on the top of the city web site's testing resource page. It is the only drive-thru testing site operated by the City of El Paso and Department of Public Health. All other sites are run in partnership with private, state or federal partners.
None of ABC-7's call attempts to the city's appointment line were answered.
"Thank you for calling the appointment line for Covid-19 drive thru collection site," the automated message states. "If you are calling during business hours, our schedulers are on other calls. Please call back. The appointment line is available Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. If this is a medical emergency, please hang up and call 911. Thank you."
The message is then repeated in Spanish before the call is ended.
"If they didn't require an appointment, I'm sure more people would show up to get tested," one ABC-7 viewer wrote. "It was like doing back flips to try and get in."
Deputy City Manager Tracey Jerome, who said on June 22 that testing demand was down 21% the previous two weeks during a city council presentation, told ABC-7 the city is aware of the issue.
"We are addressing the issues," Jerome said. "I'm not going to tell you that we're not concerned about it. We are adding staff to that telephone number."
As of Tuesday, a city spokesperson said that phone line is staffed by an average of six to nine people over the 60 hours of business each week.
But a recent surge in new cases, with 1,571 of them from June 22 to July 1 alone, has increased testing demand, according to El Paso Fire Chief Mario D'Agostino.
"Since June 22, we've seen a 60-percent increase in testing," D'Agostino said. "We are adjusting how we do business. And we'll improve on that. We want them to take their time, make the call, don't give up. We'll improve the system. We'll improve the method to get them through."
Jerome says more than 2,400 people were tested in El Paso on Tuesday, up from an average of 950 people two weeks prior.
Chief D'Agostino sais he is looking into possibly making other drive-thru sites operated by the Texas Military Department a walk-up style test that doesn't require an appointment.
For a complete list of testing options, click here.
ABC-7 CALL LOG
- 6/24 3:25 p.m. -- no answer
- 6/24 3:58 p.m. -- no answer
- 6/25 4:22 p.m. -- no answer
- 6/25 4:47 p.m. -- no answer
- 6/26 1:37 p.m. -- no answer
- 6/26 3:22 p.m. -- no answer
- 6/27 11:11 a.m. -- no answer
- 6/27 1:56 p.m. -- no answer
- 6/29 10:00 a.m. -- no answer
- 6/29 11:55 a.m. -- no answer
- 6/29 3:11 p.m. -- no answer
- 6/29 3:13 p.m. -- no answer
- 6/29 4:08 p.m. -- no answer
- 6/29 4:28 p.m. -- no answer
- 6/30 9:09 a.m. -- no answer
- 6/30 10:43 a.m. -- no answer
- 6/30 11:00 a.m. -- no answer