Austin school hosts free COVID-19 testing site on campus for families, community

An Austin charter school and a Houston-based lab have teamed up to help track COVID-19 in the community.

For the past month, Austin Achieve Public Schools has conducted testing on their northeast campus. They saw the need when they realized their proximity to zip codes with higher COVID-19 rates.
            
"We saw a migrating purple color on the dashboard beginning to move towards areas where our families lived, and that was a grave concern," said Ricardo Chavana, front office coordinator for the elementary school. "We thought, what can we do about this?"

Staff at Austin Achieve went to the Texas Department of Emergency Management with their problem. 

After doing some research on possible vendors they could work with, they went with Dascena Labs. The medical company uses algorithms to predict and prevent health problems, like kidney failure. But when COVID-19 hit, they redirected.

"Really over the past two months we have just put all of our energy into putting up these testing sites," said Mark Anderson, vice president for human resources at Dascena Labs

The company is now being used in 15 cities nationwide, soon to be in more. Through the partnership with Austin Achieve, they’ve been able to offer free, quick testing at a convenient location. 

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"We are open early in the morning, so they can drop off their kid, get a quick test and get their results in less than 48 hours, then head back to work," said Dominick Hernandez, Austin site coordinator for Dascena Labs.

The concept of using a school campus as a testing site is unique to the area.

"Schools are definitely one of the areas we’ve been focusing on just because of that whole family component," said Anderson. "If you can keep one person in a family from contracting COVID-19 or determining they have COVID-19, you’ve just now kept it from spreading within an entire family."

It serves a line of defense for families as well as the school itself. Students or teachers can get tested regularly and then work remotely for a day or two if necessary while they wait for results.

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"It’s a significant tool that we have to be able to keep our in-person student populations and teachers on campus," said Chavana.

He said ideally the next step is transitioning from playing "defense" to a new strategy - getting their teachers vaccinated.

"Our hope is that we can get vaccines so we can be on the offensive in the future," he said.

Starting Monday, Feb. 8, the site will now be open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The northeast campus is located at 7424 E Hwy 290.

The site is open to anyone in the community, and bilingual staff are available.

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