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Community Labs In San Antonio Continues To Expand Asymptomatic COVID-19 Testing

Community Labs

The non-profit Community Labs is ramping up its rapid asymptomatic COVID-19 testing program in San Antonio after an initial two months of operation.

It hopes to inspire other communities to provide their own widespread testing to help combat the virus.

TPR's Jerry Clayton spoke to Sal Webber, president of Community Labs, to learn more about the project's next steps.

Jerry Clayton: Now, a few months ago, Community Labs did a pilot program at Somerset Independent School District. Can you tell me how that worked out?

Sal Webber: Yes, we're very excited because it was a theory. We ran with it, and we've got some very surprising results.

We went there to test the school children in order to provide confidence so that more school children would return. And so when we started with summer, we were in the high 30% in-person attendance rate for the school. The rest of the students were attending online. And I'm just looking at the most recent numbers that have come through. And every single school that we're testing at is in the high 60% face-to-face. So, almost a 100% increase in the number of face-to-face students attending each of the schools.

JC: So, is the Somerset program still ongoing?

SW: Yes, it is. And so what we're doing is we're testing each school once a week. And what we found is we go a couple of weeks without a positive and then there will be two or three. And so we feel like there have been a couple of cases that we've caught very early and prevented any sort of large scale spread for Somerset.

JC: Are you seeing more school districts that want to participate?

SW: Yes, absolutely. So, we've got the schools that are in the Aspire Network in San Antonio and these school districts, there's eight of them that we are currently working with. So, they're all very excited to see similar results and have more. Again, our mission is having more kids in person in school.

JC: How much interest is being shown by local entities and companies, not only local, but from around the country?

SW: Yes, our primary interest is is the schools. And we think there's a causal link there that if school children are in school, parents will feel free to go back to work. And if parents go back to work, and school is back open again, then we're not risking any sort of a shutdown, no matter how bad the infection rate gets. We also have many local businesses who are asking us to help them as well. We have Santikos, the local movie theater who is advertising, they've got 100% of their staff is COVID free. And they're testing each week. There are other restaurants that want us to come and test them as well. And so we're trying to accommodate everyone that we can as we ramp up our own lab capacity.

JC: How many tests can you currently do and how many do you anticipate being able to do?

SW: Yeah, so we're we're currently at about 6,000 per day and we will shortly be at 12,000 per day from twelve thousand. The next stop will be 24,000.

JC: Do you think this type of testing coupled with a vaccine could mean the end of COVID any time in the foreseeable future?

SW: Boy, I sure hope so. It would be great. Our vision is that that we keep San Antonio open and that we hopefully inspire other cities to do the same thing. ...We think that with enough testing, if you had enough testing, you can separate the people who are healthy and let them go back to work or school, and let the people know who are positive that they need to quarantine for a short while to just make sure they don't spread to other people.

And I think if you could layer a vaccine in on top of that, then, yeah, that's even better because that's a tool that hasn't been an option. That's kind of the ultimate solution, a vaccine that works and in quantities that can be spread all across the country, that that would be an excellent thing.

JC: Sal Webber is president of Community Labs, thank you so much for taking the time out to talk with us. I know you're busy.

SW: Thank you. Appreciate it.

You can learn more at communitylabs.org.

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Jerry Clayton can be reached at jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @jerryclayton.