City schools partner with UCSD on COVID-19 testing plan for students, staff

Coronavirus

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Unified School District would provide routine COVID-19 testing to students and staff under a proposed agreement unveiled Tuesday with UC San Diego Health.

“We don’t want to reopen on Tuesday and then have to close again on Wednesday, and testing is a critical part of this,” San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten said.

The testing plan would provide access to PCR testing, a type of diagnostic test, to all employees and students every two weeks, according to a statement from the county’s largest school district. Testing frequency would be adapted over time and based on virus and transmission rates, SDUSD officials said.

The San Diego Unified Board of Education will vote Tuesday evening on whether to authorize an initial investment of $5 million into the testing plan, which officials said would begin with testing at 10 campuses. The program could eventually be expanded districtwide to include all 100,000 students and more than 10,000 district staff members, according to SDUSD.

No decision has been reached regarding whether the testing would be mandatory, as SDUSD said it first wants to assess voluntary compliance rates once the testing begins.

“This testing program is an essential part of our plan to continue teaching students in the middle of a global pandemic,” Marten said. “The science is clear. We can prevent 90 percent of disease spread at schools simply by putting in place a robust testing program like the one we are announcing today.”

The district is currently in Phase 1 of its reopening plan, in which some appointment-based, in-person learning resumed Oct. 13 for elementary school students “who have been uniquely identified by their teachers as experiencing learning loss,” according to SDUSD, which said its reopening plan was established in collaboration with UCSD.

“We’re hopeful that we will turn the corner and begin to see a national strategy emerge but we can’t wait for that and we haven’t waited,” SDUSD Vice President Richard Barrera said.

UC San Diego Health says its Center for Advanced Laboratory Medicine can process thousands of COVID-19 tests per day, with results typically returned within 24 hours.

“Quick, accurate testing is fundamental to any successful effort to reopen, whether it is schools or businesses, and to eventually returning to a sense of normalcy,” said Patty Maysent, CEO of UC San Diego Health. “Our physicians and scientists have been working this challenge since the first days of the pandemic. They have built rigorous models, systems and programs based on science, evidence and best practices. We are pleased to be a part of efforts to get children back into classrooms, safely.”

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