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Tucson Unified to offer COVID-19 testing in its schools

Ginkgo Bioworks COVID-19 Testing
Posted at 6:43 AM, Aug 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-12 09:43:24-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — It's been one week since Tucson Unified School District welcomed students back to the classroom. The district's governing board is already making new plans for how they can keep schools safe and in session, despite the pandemic. One of those plans is to offer a new COVID-19 testing opportunity for students.

"We wanted to make fast, affordable and easy-to-use testing available to every classroom in the country," said Ginkgo Bioworks Vice President, Tim Lyden.

Ginkgo Bioworks pitched their testing method to TUSD. For students whose parents consent to their participation, a shallow nasal swab is collected. The swabs from each student in a classroom are then sent to a lab where they are tested together as a group.

"If the test is negative, you don't need any further action. If the test is positive, you can follow up with an individual diagnostic test to find out who in that pool is positive," said Lyden.

This method is known as "pool testing." It's been implemented in more than 1,000 schools nationwide. After testing over 100,000 classroom "pools," Lyden said only one in every 100 tests were positive for COVID-19.

"The goal is to pick up on asymptomatic cases. We know that 20-25% of cases will never show symptoms. The only way to identify them is to test regularly," said Lyden.

TUSD plans to make testing available to the entire district by the end of September 2021. The program is funded by the state of Arizona and comes at no cost to the district.

"Our whole program is designed to keep kids in the classroom and keep COVID out of the classroom. I think this is one in a series of tools that they will use to help make that happen," said Lyden.