Oct 28, 2020 by

10.27.20 – Austin American-Statesman

“Austin ISD could roll out COVID-19 rapid testing next week”

By Melissa B. Taboada


Excerpts from this article:

The Austin school district could begin offering COVID-19 rapid testing to students and teachers as soon as next week.

State leaders this month launched a rapid testing pilot program for eight school districts, including the small Central Texas districts of Granger and Lampasas.

Austin was not among the districts chosen for the pilot program, but Superintendent Stephanie S. Elizalde told school board members Monday night that the state is providing urban districts access to the rapid tests.

The school district will offer the nasal swab tests free of charge to students, teachers and staff members who are learning and working in person on campuses and begin to show coronavirus-related symptoms, as well as those who might have come in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. Students must have permission from their parents or guardians to be tested.

Education Commissioner Mike Morath is offering the testing to urban districts first because of the large numbers of students those districts serve.

“We do not have to wait for the pilot testing that the commissioner and governor put in place for the (eight) districts. We are now at the front of the line for the rapid tests that are available,” she said…

Antigen tests

It’s not clear which other urban districts also will be participating in the program or how many tests the state will provide the Austin district. Several other districts, including Dallas, also expressed interest in the effort. The application period for all Texas districts opens Wednesday afternoon.

The program, created in conjunction with the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Division of Emergency Management, aims to curb the spread of the coronavirus in schools by using rapid antigen tests.

The Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card diagnostic tests are part of a $760 million federal initiative announced in August to dole out 150 million tests to states to expand testing.

The rapid tests, provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, can give results within 15 minutes and will be offered to anyone in the select school systems who wish to participate. Districts are in charge of designating who will administer the tests on campuses. Those outside of the pilot program had to apply to participate, and Austin was the first to do so, Elizalde said, and last week began putting in place a plan to roll out the testing.

Antigen tests generally are less sensitive than molecular tests, also known as RT-PCR tests, and perform best if a person is tested in the early stages of infection when the viral load is highest, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Positive antigen test results are considered accurate, but there are increased chances of false negative results compared with the molecular tests.

The program is free to the participating school districts and includes the necessary supplies to administer the tests, as well as additional personal protective equipment, such as gowns, masks and face shields…

Few cases

As of Wednesday, the Austin district had one active case and 59 cumulative cases.

The Texas Education Agency does not require districts to close school buildings for positive cases, and most have not.

Last week, the Houston school district called for the temporary closure of 16 campuses due to confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases.

Confirmed Texas school cases have remained relatively low, with less than 1% combined of the state’s in-person students and teachers and staff confirmed to have contracted the virus. In total, an estimated 12,765 Texas students and 8,248 staff members on campuses have been confirmed positive since the school year began in August.

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