How is the COVID-19 test shortage impacting local school districts?

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Delayed COVID-19 test results and supply shortages — these are some of the issues KXAN is hearing from Central Texas parents and schools as they race to test students returning to the classroom.

Dad of two Andres Ruz was able to finally secure a test for his sons, making him more comfortable to send them back to the classroom.

“We knew [tests] were going to be hard to find, so we got tested about a week and a half ago,” said Ruz. “It is always concerning. It’s hard for kids to keep their masks on, and we hope if anyone has symptoms they stay home and protect everyone else.”

As the demand increases, Austin-Travis County leaders are working to ensure tests are available in local districts. 

“The superintendents expressed concerns that they don’t have access to adequate quantities of test kits or testing services,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin health authority.

They said with a nationwide shortage, districts are depending on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the state to fill requests for additional testing kits. 

“Private providers like Curative are available and still have access to test kits, and I’ve made that connection between them and the ISDs,” said Charles Brotherton, Travis County executive for emergency services. 

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is partnering now with the TEA to implement the SY2021-SY2022 K-12 testing program, which uses about $800 million in federal funds for testing resources and personnel. Currently, DSHS said it isn’t seeing any unmet needs. 

A recent list shows a breakdown of how those funds were allocated to districts across the state. It shows the initial allocation, reported expenditures from each district and what’s left. 

KXAN checked in with some local districts, and here’s what we found:

  • Round Rock ISD: Uses Curative and isn’t seeing a shortage
  • Eanes ISD: The district is working to get tests from multiple sources, but so far have not been able to secure any. The district has, however, found a vendor who is providing free testing this week for staff. The district is recommending families contact their health care provider or get tested through the city.
  • Manor ISD: If students in the district want to get tested through the district, they will have to wait. The district had to shut down its testing trailer because of staff shortages. 
  • Del Valle ISD: The district is seeing more demand for testing but have enough of a supply for the demand. Health workers use a rapid test, so the district said there are no delays in results.
  • Austin ISD: The district said it is not seeing a shortage, but there is more demand at certain sites, and staff is able to refill those quickly. 

KXAN reached out to Curative, a company that has several public testing sites at different districts in the Austin area. A spokesperson said they are working to help the schools with a special focus on faculty and staff. They said they are not experiencing any shortages in tests, and their teams are doing their best to prioritize schools and first responders.

In terms of staff shortages among those who administer tests, the company said if an employee does test positive for COVID-19 and cannot work during that time, they have a dedicated larger team that can scale a testing site to adjust logistics and staffing to meet demands.  

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