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SDSU to distribute 6,000 COVID-19 testing kits at Sweetwater Middle School

Targets of the SDSU study are unvaccinated or otherwise high-risk individuals living with children of middle-school age.
Credit: AP
Test kits sit on the table at a United Memorial Medical Center COVID-19 testing site Wednesday, July 8, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — San Diego State University will distribute 6,000 home testing kits for COVID-19 at a San Diego County middle school this summer, the school announced Wednesday, part of a pilot program to determine whether self-testing of students' high-risk family members can help keep schools safe.

The tests will be distributed to families at an as-yet undesignated school in the Sweetwater Union High School District, which includes some of San Diego County's most heavily Latino communities and returns to in-person classes on July 21.

"The idea is to catch it before it transmits to the middle schooler or before that middle schooler comes to campus," said Corinne McDaniels- Davidson, director of the Institute for Public Health at SDSU. "We need to step up and protect our students so that they can focus on their schooling."

The $300,000, one-year project is one of eight grants awarded by the RADx-UP Rapid Research Pilot Program through the Coordination and Data Collection Center at Duke University and part of a $1.4 billion initiative from the National Institutes of Health.

Targets of the SDSU study are unvaccinated or otherwise high-risk individuals living with children of middle-school age. Nasal swab tests will be self-administered, inserted into a liquid, then placed on a test strip, photographed and then analyzed through a smartphone or tablet computer app. Plans call for testing about once every two weeks.

Investigators will follow up with anyone who tests positive to confirm the results and link them to resources so they can safely isolate at home.

One aim of the pilot project -- dubbed "Communities Fighting COVID @Home" -- will be to see "what we need to tweak along the way in order to make testing as easy as humanly possible" for families, McDaniels-Davidson said.

"We're trying to see what it'll take to get family members to take these tests so we can keep COVID out of the schools," she added. "We want schools to reopen but we want to do it safely as they return to full capacity."

In addition to the at-home tests, SDSU will conduct surveys in schools to learn more about the confidence and trust of parents and guardians.

"This is a great opportunity to work with partners such as SDSU to make our schools as safe as possible by expanding convenient tasting options to their families," said Vernon Moore, chief of educational equity and support services for the district. "While we are strongly encouraging all SUHSD families to be vaccinated, we appreciate the opportunity to provide testing as another protective layer for students who do not make that choice or who have other high-risk scenarios."

The RADx-UP grant follows two other ongoing "Communities Fighting COVID!" projects at the School of Public Health focused on COVID-19 in the community. One is a $5 million NIH grant to deploy rapid COVID-19 testing and reduce testing disparities throughout the county, and the other is the Contract Tracing Project with the county's Health and Human Services Agency providing language-specific contract tracing services in Spanish-, Arabic- and Tagalog- speaking communities and the Black community.