50ºF

Eight Texas school systems will get rapid coronavirus tests with new pilot program

Partitions made from clear shower curtains and PVC pipe separate desks in a fourth grade classroom at Abilene’s Texas Leadership Charter Academy. The barriers are to prevent children from potentially spreading coronavirus to classmates. (Credit: Ronald W. Erdrich/Abilene Reporter-News)
Partitions made from clear shower curtains and PVC pipe separate desks in a fourth grade classroom at Abilene’s Texas Leadership Charter Academy. The barriers are to prevent children from potentially spreading coronavirus to classmates. (Credit: Ronald W. Erdrich/Abilene Reporter-News)

Need to stay updated on coronavirus news in Texas? Our evening roundup will help you stay on top of the day’s latest updates. Sign up here.

Coronavirus tests with results in 15-minutes or less are coming to a few Texas schools as part of a new pilot program announced Wednesday by Gov. Greg Abbott.

“As more students return to campus for in-person instruction, the State of Texas is working alongside school officials to provide resources to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among students and staff,” Abbott said in a news release.

The program is meant to help schools conduct rapid tests of employees and students who have written permission from parents. Health experts have said accessible, rapid testing could help the state achieve substantive widespread COVID-19 testing, an elusive public health goal for Texas and much the country.

John Wittman, a spokesman for the governor, said the tests are part of the millions being provided to Texas by the federal government. The medical company producing the tests said the antigen tests require a nasal swab, cost $5 and about the size of a credit card.

Through the program, Texas Division of Emergency Management will provide school systems with the tests and they will receive personal protective equipment to administer them to willing participants, according to the release. The TDEM and Texas Education Agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Thank you to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for providing these advanced antigen tests to the State of Texas,” Abbott said. “This rapid testing pilot program will be an effective strategy to protect the health and safety of students and staff while helping to further ensure that Texas students have access to a quality education throughout the pandemic and beyond.”

Eight school systems are participating in the launch of the program — Bob Hope School in Port Arthur, Fabens Independent School District, Grace Community School in Tyler, Granger Independent School District, Lampasas Independent School District, Longview Independent School District, Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District and Ysleta Independent School District. Other public and private schools interested in the program can apply through the TEA no later than Wednesday, Oct. 28, the release said.

Wittman said local school districts will decide on how often they test students and staff. The implementation and testing will be “ramped up significantly,” he said, but first any issues need to be worked out in the pilot program.

Rapid antigen tests, that can detect proteins on the outside of the virus, are more prone to giving false negative results than other coronavirus tests that use genetic material.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says while a positive test result on an antigen test is “highly accurate,” “antigen tests are more likely to miss an active coronavirus infection compared to molecular tests.”

But Joseph Petrosino, chair of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, said in a previous interview that the tests are most useful in settings such as schools because the same people can be tested every three to four days, eliminating the chances of having a false-negative result.