HISD Building

Visitors walk toward the entrance of Houston ISD’s Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center, 4400 W. 18th St. (Photo by Adam Zuvanich)

Free COVID-19 tests will be administered to students and staff on Houston ISD campuses later this fall in collaboration with the Houston Health Department, the city and its largest school district announced Thursday.

The testing program is targeted to begin within 4-6 weeks, according to a spokesperson for the city health department, who said the initial group of participating schools has not yet been determined.

"All schools located within zip codes with high to moderate COVID-19 transmission rates will participate," health department spokesperson Scott Packard said in a text message. "These may fluctuate over time based on data."

Parents and guardians at participating schools will receive consent forms they must sign in order for their children to participate in the testing program, according to news releases from HISD and the city. They said medical professionals will administer the PCR tests, in which nasal swabs will be inserted less than an inch into each nostril and rotated three times, and results are expected to be received within one day.

The city said "results will be shared only for public health purposes, which may include notifying close contacts that they may have been exposed to COVID-19."

“Many people with COVID-19, especially children and teens, don’t have symptoms but can still spread the virus,” Dr. David Persse, the city's chief medical officer, said in a news release. "Regular testing of school communities will help us find students and staff with the virus and put measures in place to slow the spread at both school and home.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet authorized COVID-19 vaccines for children younger than age 12. 

According to HISD's online COVID-19 dashboard, there were 1,036 active cases across the district as of Thursday, including 926 among students.

The local campuses with active cases were Heights (5 students, 1 staff), Scarborough (9 students), Waltrip (19 students) and Washington (1 student) high schools; Frank Black (7 students, 1 staff), Clifton (4 students, 2 staff), Hamilton (17 students, 2 staff), Hogg (1 student) and Williams (4 students) middle schools; and Crockett (14 students, 1 staff), Durham (8 students, 1 staff), Field (3 students), Garden Oaks Montessori Magnet (10 students, 1 staff), Harvard (1 student), Highland Heights (3 students), Love (2 students), Oak Forest (1 student), Sinclair (1 student), Smith (5 students), Stevens (1 student), Travis (7 students, 1 staff) and Wainwright (4 students) elementary schools.

The 19 student cases at Waltrip was the second-highest number among all HISD campuses, with West University Elementary having 27 student cases.

“Thanks to the Houston Health Department we are continuing to expand our tool kit of protection that is keeping our students and staff safe from the deadliest virus of our lifetime,” HISD Superintendent Millard House II said in a news release. “First, we mandated masks in our schools, and now the City of Houston is providing testing that can catch COVID-19 before it spreads through our schools. This partnership with the City of Houston will save lives.”

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