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Comal ISD To Offer Free COVID-19 Testing as Early as Next Week

Goodwin Frazier Elementary School students in Sabrina Seller's class write about their thinking on science. They will be eligible for free COVID-19 testing later this month, according to an email from a Comal ISD administrator. Twitter image.

Comal ISD hopes to offer free COVID-19 testing in its schools by as early as next week.

Comal ISD feedbackIn a Wednesday email to a parent that was shared on the Open Comal County Schools Safely Facebook page, Comal ISD Community Relations Coordinator Sally McDonald said the district will send information to parents about its new testing program in the near future.

Comal ISD spokesperson Steve Stanford did not respond to a request for more information about the district’s plans or provide a timeline for the rollout.

Testing is made possible through the Texas Education Agency, which on Wednesday launched a School Year 21-22 COVID-19 Testing Program with the help of an $800 million federal grant administered by the Department of State Health Services (DSHS).

“With the surge in the COVID-19 Delta variant, we know that schools and parents are in need of COVID-19 testing, and nearly all school systems are providing testing information in some form,” TEA said. “If your school system is not providing testing, we encourage you to enroll in the K-12 COVID-19 Testing Program.”

Remy Pasco, a research assistant with the University of Texas Austin’s COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, told CBS Austin today that even without any facemasks, weekly COVID testing can reduce total infections by about 78%.

“And if just half the students would wear a mask we can further reduce the number of infections to a total of 84% reduction,” he said.

Click here to read “Mitigating COVID-19 in schools with face masks and proactive testing,” a Sept. 14 report issued by Pasco and other researchers.

The possibility of school-based testing for the virus is good news for district parents, who say they are unable to find COVID-19 test kits in area pharmacies.

Francesca Moore pulled two of her four children out of Rebecca Creek Elementary School in March 2020 due to her concerns about the way Comal ISD was managing its response to the global pandemic.

She stockpiled test kits over the summer of 2021 to make sure symptoms of her seasonal allergies were just that — not COVID-19.

On Monday, Moore tried to help friends locate test kits for a vaccinated teacher who was exposed to the virus. Stores were sold out.

“The issue the teacher was having was going back into class on Monday morning, not knowing because she hadn’t got her PCR test results back,” she said.

On Sept. 2 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned of a temporary shortage in point-of-care (POC) and over-the-counter (OTC) test supplies.

To help preserve rapid test kits and supplies and meet the current test demand, the agency recommended the use of laboratory-based testing whenever possible.

TEA urged parents not to take children to overcrowded local emergency rooms for COVID-19 testing and provided this map of additional testing resources.

A woman who answered CVS’ COVID-19 hotline today confirmed the pharmacy’s Canyon Lake location does not have test kits in stock, and a store representative at CVS’ Spring Branch location said they are out of test kits, too.

Moore said many teachers probably couldn’t afford to pay for the tests even if they were in stock.

The Ellume COVID-19 Home Test costs $38.99 at CVS. BINAXNow COVID-19 Antigen Self Test sells for $23.99.

According to CVS’ COVID-19 hotline, these are single test kits.

School Year 21-22 COVID-19 Testing Program

TEA’s grant money will be used to pay for school-based, screening-testing activities that support open, in-person K-12 instruction in both public and private schools.

Schools cannot mandate the use of COVID-19 tests on students or staff or upon certain groups like student-athletes or those participating in extracurricular activities.

Permission slips are required for students under the age of 18.

An FAQ and PowerPoint presentation posted to TEA’s website today includes additional detailed information for public school administrators as well as private and charter schools.

The TEA did not provide any information about the number of tests available, instead asking school systems to develop a plan for testing throughout the year.

By conducting tests on campus, TEA said administrators can use tests as an additional screening tool to prevent the virus from coming on campus and quickly remove anyone who tests positive before they can spread COVID.

TEA and DSHS will evaluate test usage in January and may adjust allocations to increase support to schools that are active test users and reduce funds in school systems that are not using their allocation.

Tests must be used immediately and not stocked for future use.

“In short, we ask that school systems develop a plan for testing throughout the year, order each month what they believe they will use in the upcoming month, report test results thoroughly and accurately, and consistently reorder testing supplies and services as needed,” TEA said in a PowerPoint presentation.

Under TEA’s new rules, campuses must notify individuals or students’ parents of positive tests, notify communities of positive cases within a classroom consistent with TEA public health guidance, notify local public health authorities about test results, and report cases within the pre-existing DSHS COVID-19 Case Reporting Form, which includes test counts and testing results.

Not included in the TEA’s new plan is personal-protective equipment (PPE). However, PPE is an allowable expense under the upcoming grant program targeted to be released in mid-October. School systems can choose to use their dollars to purchase PPE for their needs.

According to information released to school administrators on Sept. 2, schools will be provided with a list of testing providers to choose from. That provider will provide tests to schools using an allocation amount determined by DSHS and TEA.

Providers will bill DSHS directly so that schools do not have to enter into contracts with testing providers. Schools will continue to report data using reporting mechanisms provided.



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