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San Antonio-Based Community Labs Expands Testing To Two Texas Border Cities Hit Hard By Pandemic

People wait in line outside the AT&T Center for a free asymptomatic coronavirus tests on Nov. 18. Community Labs operates three public testing centers in San Antonio.
Bri Kirkham | Texas Public Radio
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People wait in line outside the AT&T Center for a free asymptomatic coronavirus tests on Nov. 18. Community Labs operates three public testing centers in San Antonio.

While the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan causes chaos and confusion and Texas hospitals deal with an alarming spike in new admissions, a San Antonio-based nonprofit is ramping up its asymptomatic testing efforts.

The Texas Division of Emergency Management has contracted Community Labs to set up operations in Laredo and El Paso — two border communities hit hard by the pandemic.

“When it comes to trying to prevent the spread of infection, you need to have a test that’s both fast and highly sensitive and, really, we’re the only test around that can do both,” said Graham Weston, chairman of Community Labs, during an interview with the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board this week.

An exact monetary amount for TDEM’s contract with Community Labs was not disclosed, but co-founder and board member Bruce Bugg reassured the state will cover all costs and no funds already committed by Bexar County and the City of San Antonio will be funneled into its Laredo and El Paso operations. Logistics are still underway but officials expect to be up and running in the other cities within a matter of weeks.

While the nonprofit sets out on its farthest venture beyond Bexar County, it's not neglecting the ongoing need for local asymptomatic testing, particularly in school districts.

San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent, Pedro Martinez, said Community Labs will provide the district with free testing to all staff members and students for the rest of the school year. SAISD will also add 35 COVID-19 testing sites and roll out testing at 92 campuses within the next two weeks.

Martinez called the move a “game changer” for the district’s COVID-19 safety procedures, and that the news would bring much reassurance to parents worried over in-person instruction — especially for a district that includes the city’s West and South Sides, where COVID-19-related deaths are higher than any other zip code in San Antonio.

Somerset ISD piloted Community Labs’ testing initiative in September and superintendents have since continued to tout weekly testing as an effective way to monitor and mitigate the spread of the virus. Free testing will continue to be administered at Somerset, as well as Edgewood ISDs.

Transparency Note: Community Labs is a financial supporter of Texas Public Radio.

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