Pilot program gives select Texas schools COVID-19 rapid test kits

Governor Greg Abbott announced on Wednesday a new pilot program providing eight Texas schools or districts with COVID-19 rapid test kits.

The goal is to better identify and trace COVID-19 on campuses with test results in 15 minutes.

Staff and students who have written parent permission will have access to the rapid COVID-19 tests at the eight school districts.

A spokesman for the governor's office says school district administrators would make the decision about how frequently students would be tested.

Chane Rascoe is superintendent at Lampasas ISD, which is located west of Killeen.

“We’re just trying to find ways to promote the health and safety and try to build confidence in the fact that we are in school and doing everything we can to keep our kids safe,” Rascoe said.

Lampasas ISD is one of eight school districts that will be part of a state-launched rapid testing pilot program.

The Texas Division of Emergency Management will provide them with 15 minute rapid COVID-19 antigen tests. Students, teachers and staff can choose to participate.

None of the eight schools or districts in the pilot program are in North Texas. Three are along the border, two are in Central Texas and the others are in east and southeast Texas.

Lampasas ISD says it will provide tests for students, but it also plans to test asymptomatic staff who elect to participate on a monthly basis. That starts Monday.

The tests are quicker and cheaper than the standard diagnostic test, and accuracy varies.

“If we can get these rapid tests here, it will increase the chance of being able to identify and contact trace a lot sooner,” Rascoe said.

Lampasas ISD says at this stage it doesn’t plan to test asymptomatic students. That could vary elsewhere.

Granger ISD, northeast of Austin, is also part of the pilot program.

The pilot process will allow the state to find out the best way to run the program before scaling up.

“It’s kind of building the plane as we fly, you know,” said Granger ISD Superintendent Randy Willis. “And we’ll have a lot more details in the logistics and personnel in a few weeks after we work with the agency on this.”

Dr. Mark Casanova, president of the Dallas County Medical Society said it would be reasonable for districts to test on a weekly basis, and then modify that if there is outbreak in a community.

“I think realistically daily would be a bit of a challenge. It would not be unreasonable though to test at certain intervals,” he said. “One could consider, for example, starting weekly and then modify it based on the presence of COVID-19 in a particular community.”

Dr. Casanova said antigen tests are very reliable when there is a positive result, but a negative result could be wrong 20 percent of the time. That means people should still wear masks, even if they received a negative result.

“It gives districts one more tool to keep learning environment safe,” Casanova said.

A spokesman for the governor's office says the TEA will be reviewing the applications from school districts that want to participate, and districts will be selected based on where the greatest need is. The governor’s office says they should be able to learn a lot based on how this pilot process goes.

While the pilot is starting out small, public and private school districts that want in can apply by Oct. 28.