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MISD began COVID testing for grades 6-12 and staff members on Wednesday, Sept. 15.

Administered by the school’s four school nurses, the tests are distributed through The Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) in coordination with the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

According to the TDEM website, “As part of the Nation’s Coronavirus Testing Strategy, the United States Health and Human Services Department has distributed 150 million of the Abbott BinaxNow rapid test kits. The state of Texas has begun receiving its weekly allotment of these tests for utilization in settings that need rapid, low-tech testing.”

The goal of the testing program is to keep as many students and teachers in the classrooms as possible, according to Dr. R.L. Richards, MISD superintendent.

“We were one of districts that did sign up to do testing,” he said.

The MISD Board of Trustees had previously signed up to test only staff, not students. However, a late July surge in COVID numbers caused them to consider testing students as well.

“Board members wanted to keep person-to-person teaching as much as possible. Students learn better that way,” Richards said. “With this as our goal, we made a different protocol plan about handling COVID situations and wanted to test and retest students and staff so they could return before the 10-day isolation if they felt good and were ready to return.”

Since testing began, one student and seven staff members have been tested for COVID. Testing takes place after school from 4 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays for students and on Tuesdays and Thursdays for teachers.

Parents bring students in for testing and sign a parental consent and release form before the test is performed. Even if the students are at the age of consent, the school will notify parents. Staff members answer a Google survey before they are tested.

The test is a nasal swab in one nostril, and the Abbott BinaxNow rapid test kits bring in results in about 15 to 20 minutes. Tests take place in the former high school choir room, now the multidisciplinary room. Parents are required to bring a mask, a pen and a parent or guardian’s drivers license.

Richards said that altogether there have been nine adult and four student COVID cases since school began.

Board members took the cost of COVID testing into account when they considered having students tested.

“It costs $130 to test students,” Richards said. “Let’s say it’s a family with four children; that gets pretty expensive. If one child is sick and four kids get tested, it might cost $520. That’s why we decided to start testing students.”

Richards call the current program “pilot testing” for junior high and high school students. The board will consider whether to test elementary students at a later time.  

Richards said last year, Bailey County was involved in reporting COVID case numbers.

“The Emergency Management System was the lead agency for Bailey County. The, city, county and school board reported together. This year, the county is not the lead agency. I don’t report to county, and the county doesn’t report to me. It’s up to the schools to decide.”

School principals came to the last meeting and commended the school board for setting protocols now that the county isn’t involved. The school board in turn praised principals for the way they had carried out the philosophy of the school board’s protocol.

The school board passed a resolution that if a staff member has COVID and needs extra absences, MISD will grant them up through spring break.

The school continues to emphasize hand-washing and sanitizing.

“We’re still trying to follow a lot of protocol,” Richards said. “A lot of people have been vaccinated or have had COVID. At this point, a lot of people are getting strep. There’s other stuff going on, but it’s not COVID.”

Dennis Fleenor, hospital administrator at Muleshoe Area Medical Center, said there has been a rise in COVID cases during the summer.

“Yes, we have seen more cases over the summer than we did during the spring. We’ve seen a rise, but not a spike like we did back last November,” he said.

The largest numbers are in the 40-60 age range.

“We haven’t seen a large spike in the 20-30 year olds that other parts of the country have seen, or even in kids in school that we are aware of,” Fleenor said, adding that the biggest obstacle for MAMC has been the inability to transfer COVID patients to a larger facility.

“Due to a staffing shortage, larger facilities don’t have the staff to take care of them.”

Some of the increases in COVID numbers overall are attributed to the rise of the Delta variant. Testing for the variant is expensive and takes time.

“If you’ve been vaccinated, or if you’ve had COVID and you happen to get it again, it’s more likely than not the Delta variant,” Fleenor said,

Fleenor said he was surprised that few people have asked about the possibility of a booster shot. At this time Pfizer offers a booster shot, while Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are both working on getting booster shots approved. People that have had the Pfizer shot and are immunocompromised or have other health conditions that put them at risk can request a booster shot.

MAMC will do free testing for COVID if the person requesting it has experienced symptoms or can document exposure. Otherwise, there is a fee.

“Here in Bailey, we’ve done well in keeping the COVID numbers down,” Fleenor said, “but we need to remain diligent. It’s not going away. Just like the flu hasn’t gone away, this isn’t going away.

“We don’t need to be scared, we don’t need to stay indoors, we need to get out and continue to live life. But we need to remain vigilant, especially when it comes to large gatherings.”

For more information on the MISD testing program, parents can call the high school at 806-272- 7400 and speak to Richards, Assistant Superintendent Dani Heathington or a school nurse. For information on the school testing program, go to TEA at https://tea.texas.gov/sites/default/files/covid/k-12_covid-19_testing_project_faq.pdf. County by county COVID numbers can be found at https://dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus/AdditionalData.aspx.

Gail M. Williams

Muleshoe Journal Correspondent

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