San Antonio – Bexar County Commissioners voted Tuesday to send $2 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds to help a nonprofit expand its COVID-19 testing program to additional schools.
Community Labs, which was founded in part by former Rackspace CEO Graham Weston, requested the money to help with screening “micro-populations,” like schools and workplaces. The testing, performed on at least a weekly basis, is meant to find asymptomatic patients and get them quarantined as quickly as possible, with results available within 24 hours.
“We focused on schools as our primary target. We will do businesses if we have excess capacity,” Weston told commissioners.
The nonprofit started a pilot program in the Somerset Independent School District on Sep. 23, beginning with testing athletes and staff at Somerset High School. Plans are to scale up to test throughout the entire district, and Superintendent Saul Hinojosa said they included 1st through 4th graders at Somerset Elementary School on Tuesday.
“So not only can high school students do it. We found that the little ones can as well,” Hinojosa told commissioners.
Hinojosa praised the program’s efficacy so far. They had tested students three times so far, getting back results within 12 hours. With the first round of 214 students, one one tested positive.
“It was a great relief, especially for all the other students, to know that this potential spreader now was quarantined and they could get that help," Hinojosa said.
Community Labs has the capacity for 12,000 PCR tests a day using a laboratory that’s housed and operated by BioBridge Global, the parent company of the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, with collaboration from UT Health San Antonio. It is currently processing 1,500 samples a day, though a spokeswoman said it will have the equipment and capacity to run 24,000 samples “in the next few weeks.”
The money from commissioners will be enough to pay for about 57,000 tests, and more districts appear willing to follow Somerset’s example.
“I was speaking with the superintendent yesterday, mentioned that initially no one wanted to take the leap. But now that there’s been success there, apparently everyone’s talking to Community Labs to try to use this program in their schools as well,” said David Marquez, executive director of the Bexar County Economic Development Department.
A San Antonio Independent School District spokeswoman said it would like to be prioritized for the next testing pilot. Superintendent Pedro Martinez also spoke to commissioners.
“When I see this kind of opportunity, it is a game changer for us,” Martinez said.
Community Labs has also partnered with the City of San Antonio to offer testing for asymptomatic people.