Community Labs, the nonprofit COVID-19 testing center designed to get students back into schools, is now performing tests on 350 campuses of 13 different school districts, as well as five universities, the BioBridge Global representative on the Community Labs’ board told The Blood & Tissue Center Foundation board of directors.
Richey Wyatt, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer at BioBridge Global, which developed and conducts Community Labs’ testing operations, outlined the remarkable progress of a laboratory that went from concept to testing in less than 90 days.
“We’re averaging about 15,000 tests a day now, with capacity to go even higher,” he told the group.
The lab was the brainchild of local philanthropists Graham Weston, Tullos Wells and Bruce Bugg. They learned of a similar program launched in Massachusetts and approached Wyatt about testing capacity within QualTex Laboratories, which is a subsidiary of BioBridge Global.
The goal was to have quick-turnaround, highly accurate, less-invasive and affordable tests available to help create COVID-19 “safety zones” for schools to return to in-person instruction.
The first district to sign up for testing was Somerset ISD, where in-person attendance was hovering around 35% during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s a school district where online learning is not a reality,” Wyatt said. “You have major issues with internet access and language barriers.”
Once parents, staff, teachers and students were convinced of testing, in-person attendance soared to 85%. The district’s students also recorded the largest improvement in the standardized STAAR test in the state.
The Community Labs testing program has since grown to 13 districts, including San Antonio ISD, and recently added school districts in Laredo and San Marcos. Laredo ISD produced a video about the program, which also is performing weekly tests for employees at 17 businesses.
With the downward curve of COVID-19 cases, Wyatt said it would be difficult to predict where Community Labs will be by the start of the 2022-23 school year.
“I call COVID a cunning and baffling disease,” he said. “We stand ready to perform tests as long as the community needs us.”