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Texas A&M System will provide free COVID-19 tests, but it’s a mixed bag for other schools

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The Texas A&M University campus on June 15, 2020 in College Station. Allie Goulding/The Texas Tribune

The Texas A&M University System is expected to begin offering free on-campus COVID-19 testing for students, faculty and staff by the end of the week.

The university system will send out about 15,000 mouth swab test kits each month to be distributed across its 11 university campuses. In total, the system includes more than 150,000 students and 25,000 faculty and staff.

At $150 a test, the endeavor will cost the university system up to $2.25 million monthly. System officials have $16 million set aside for the COVID-19 testing program, said Laylan Copelin, system spokesperson.

Copelin said 75% of testing costs are eligible for federal reimbursement by FEMA.

The move comes as universities grapple with ways to make students and parents feel safe about returning to crowded classrooms and dormitories amid a pandemic that is currently surging across Texas.

“Ensuring the health and safety of our students is our top priority,” said John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M University System in a written statement. “Facilitating increased accessibility and availability of COVID-19 testing will help us mitigate the spread and help to protect each other by taking preventative and proactive measures.”

Tests will be available for people with symptoms of the coronavirus or who suspect they've been exposed to someone with the virus. Asymptomatic people will not have access to the free test.

The university system will use test kits from Curative Inc., a startup in the Los Angeles metro area, which has a 10% rate of false negatives. The company will deliver lab results within 30 hours of a kit's arrival at its lab, according to the press release.

Other universities across the state are also sorting out how they’ll handle testing come the fall.

The University of Texas at Austin, one of Texas’ most populous schools, will charge for a COVID-19 test. It health service site lists a COVID-19 nasal swab test at $88 and a blood test for COVID-19 antibodies at $53.

Students whose health insurance doesn’t cover the cost of a COVID-19 test or who don’t have insurance can receive a subsidy through the university to eliminate the cost of the test, said Ellie Breed, a university spokesperson. Faculty and staff tests are already covered by university health insurance.

The University of Texas at Arlington will be open for testing three days a week and by appointment only, according to its website, but it's unclear if the school will cover the cost.

Last week, the University of Texas at El Paso said it will use part of its federal funding for free COVID-19 testing on campus, according to a university email.

Texas Tech University has limited testing and is only available for students faculty and staff who had direct contact with a person who tests positive for COVID-19 or if they recently traveled to an area with community transmission and have symptoms, according to the university website.

Disclosure: Texas A&M System, University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas-Arlington, University of Texas at El Paso, and Texas Tech University have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporcate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.