EL PASO, TX – Many school districts across Texas could soon receive more than one million rapid tests kits for students and staff after a select number of school districts attempt to pilot a rapid testing program.
Xavier De La Torre the current superintendent at Ysleta ISD in El Paso, one of eight school systems chosen to participate in a newly introduced testing program. The district says the tests are a fraction of the cost of normal swab PCR tests, easy to use and give results in just 15 minutes.
“I’m excited about it,” said De La Torre.
Ysleta ISD initially received 12,000 tests, which De La Torre has even administered himself, and so far they've used about 700 and found two positives among the school district.
“In many ways, it looks a lot like a pregnancy test,” De La Torre said. “One stripe is good. Two stripes is not good.”
Although only about a handful of the 40,000-student district has returned to in-person learning, the district says they’ve had about 24 student cases and an additional 7 staff cases. They say the new tests could eventually help bring reluctant teachers back to the classroom sometime soon.
De La Torre went on to say, “We see it as another layer of security in our community when making decisions relative to coming back.”
The federal government began the process by shipping out some of the 150 million antigen tests it bought from Abbott Labs, as Texas has received roughly 1 million over the last two weeks.
Additionally, the state health department doesn’t count antigen tests as confirmed positive cases, so far, there have been 211,218 antigen tests reported to the state, of those approximately 19,098 have been positive.
However, the Texas Education Agency is advising districts to count antigen tests as cases in its dashboard total. As of last week’s update, roughly 7,620 students and 5,227 staff at school districts across the state have tested positive for coronavirus.
Granger ISD which has just 460 students, about 1 percent of Ysleta’s total student body, is also part of the pilot.
“I was real excited to get the call from TEA,” said Granger ISD Superintendent Randy Willis. “They asked if I had an interest and I said absolutely.”
The TEA says they tried to select a wide range of schools when diving testing kits, but didn’t provide details on how the specific districts were chosen, or how many tests each school district received.
At this time none of the districts supplied with rapid testing kits rank anywhere near the worst in the state as far as outbreaks.
“The idea is to identity, isolate and contain,” Willis said.
Currently, Granger ISD doesn’t know how many tests they’ll receive or when they’ll arrive, but like Ysleta, they’re still figuring out who they’d test.
“We don’t have a blueprint for this,” added Willis. “We’re building this as we go.”
While the state allows other districts apply for tests in the next two weeks, Fort Worth ISD, Dallas ISD and Arlington ISD all say they just learned of the program on Wednesday, and weren’t sure if they’d request any tests at this time.