The Galveston Independent School District this week was among a few that received a COVID-19 prevention tool Texas Gov. Greg Abbott promised last month — tests that can diagnose a COVID-19 infection within 15 minutes of being administered.
Although Galveston ISD has received its free shipment of 2,000 rapid tests, other local school districts still are on a waiting list for devices.
The Galveston school district planned to begin offering tests to students and staff members displaying COVID-19 symptoms at its on-campus health clinics. Fifteen people received rapid tests Thursday, officials said.
The tests would enable administrators to make quicker decisions if the virus is detected inside a school, officials said.
“Rapid tests are reliable and allow us to quickly identify contagious individuals in order to make swift decisions about treatment,” said Dr. Richard Rupp, the medical director at the district’s teen health centers.
“The earlier we can make decisions the better, and we are grateful that we now have the ability to determine if someone is positive for COVID-19 within a matter of minutes.”
The Galveston school district is one of at least two districts in the county to receive the rapid tests. The Texas City Independent School District also recently received a shipment of about 1,200 tests, district spokeswoman Melissa Tortorici said.
The Santa Fe Independent School District has requested the COVID tests but had not received a shipment by Thursday, a spokeswoman said. The Dickinson Independent School District said it did not request any tests from the state. The Clear Creek Independent School district didn’t respond to a question about the rapid tests.
As of Thursday afternoon, the Texas Education Agency had supplied 717,625 rapid tests to 339 school systems, including private schools, the agency said.
Abbott announced in October that the state would make rapid tests available to schools wanting them and introduced a pilot program that includes eight school districts. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provided the test kits to the state.
The kits are part of a promise the federal health department made in August to distribute 150 million rapid tests nationwide. The kits contain antigen tests, which are faster than PCR tests — the kind of test available at sites such as the University of Texas Medical Branch — but are less able to detect low levels of the virus.
The tests arrived in Galveston a week after the school district canceled in-person classes at one of its middle schools because of a case of COVID-19 identified in a single student. The number of close contacts the student had with teachers and staff prompted the school district to close Central Middle School and switch all of its student to virtual learning until contact tracing and thorough cleaning could be completed at the school.
In-person classes had resumed Wednesday for most students at the school. The district kept seventh-grade students off campus, however, because too many teachers still were quarantined after close contact with the infected student.
The district couldn’t find enough substitute teachers to cover the entire grade, spokesman Billy Rudolph said.
Seventh-grade students will not return to in-person class until Nov. 19 at the earliest, Rudolph said.
Despite the quarantines, no infections have been reported connected to the COVID-positive student, Rudolph said.
Most local school districts began returning to in-person classes in August. Since then, there have been no widespread outbreaks of COVID-19 connected to students, teachers or school staff in the county.
As of Thursday, there were 1,004 active cases of COVID-19 in Galveston County, according to the Galveston County Health District. Of those, 104 cases were in people younger than 20 years old, according to the health district.