Pilot Program: Rapid response COVID-19 tests roll out at HCISD

The Rapid COVID-19 Tests being used in the pilot program can detect COVID-19 in 15 minutes and is minimally invasive compared to the tests being used in other testing places.

“This is one added tool to assist us in dealing with this COVID pandemic,” SAID ALICIA Noyola.

HARLINGEN — The Harlingen school district has just received about 6,000 rapid response COVID-19 testing kits, which will reveal answers in about 15 minutes.

The district is one of eight Texas school systems chosen for the COVID-19 Rapid Testing Program. Educators and administrators are developing a plan to utilize the kits.

“The state’s recommendation on the best use of this test is to focus on self-administration,” said Alicia Noyola, chief academic officer for the Harlingen school district.

“The use of the test itself is very simple,” Noyola said. “Because the focus is on self-administration, we felt like our students aren’t necessarily ready for self-administration. So our focus is really going to be on the adult population.”

Which adults?

“We went through and identified a tier system of screening,” she said. “What we’re thinking is that we have identified individuals in our district who by nature of their work do come into close physical contact with students or with other colleagues.”

An example of this would be the life skills classes, where teachers and staff members must by necessity be up close with their students.

Teachers and staff in pre-kindergarten classrooms obviously must have close physical contact with their students. Noyola said those individuals are considered Tier 1.

“Tier 1 staff would have the opportunity to test on a recurring weekly basis,” Noyola said.

And then there are Tier 2 staff who come into physical contact with students only occasionally.

Those employees will be tested every other week.

“That is the screening aspect of what we are considering,” Noyola said. “And we’re also looking at it from a targeted response situation, when we have situations where we have symptomatic individuals who have no reason to suspect that it might be COVID.”

That’s opposed to situations in which a teacher, for example, calls and says her husband has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and now she’s having symptoms. The teacher would be automatically quarantined.

“There really is no need to test her because it’s very obvious why she has symptoms,” Noyola said.

But what if the teacher begins having symptoms and has had no contact with anyone infected with COVID-19? She calls in and says she has a sore throat, or during the day she begins feeling ill. This is where the district would use the testing kit. And it wouldn’t stop there.

“They would have close contacts that we identify,” Noyola said. “That would be a situation where we would go through and utilize the test in a targeted response.”

In other words, those casual contacts would also be tested.

“This is one added tool to assist us in dealing with this COVID pandemic,” Noyola said.

This is actually part of a pilot program, and there are plans to distribute tests to more districts as they become available. The test is called BinaxNOW, and it has been developed by a company called Abbott.

“The federal government distributed these tests out to the state with the recommendation that they may be used in school districts,” Noyola said. “What Texas in essence decided to do was pilot and they identified eight school districts. We were fortunate that Harlingen was selected as one of those eight districts.”

The district plans to use most of its campuses for testing sites as well as two district-level facilities.

“Our goal is to try and start utilizing these tests in mid-November,” Noyola said. “We need to make sure that our protocols and processes are in place.”

Some students may also be tested but on a limited basis and only with a parent’s permission.