LISD

Longview ISD Superintendent James Wilcox speaks at a community meeting about proposed charter expansions for the district, on Tuesday, February 11, 2020, at Broughton Recreation Center. (Michael Cavazos/ News-Journal Photo)

Longview ISD wants to bring a type of COVID-19 test to all its campuses that has yet to gain federal or state approval.

The district is considering a partnership with the company US MedTest to begin weekly, free COVID-19 screenings to all campuses for consenting staff and for students with parental consent.

Superintendent James Wilcox gave an update on the proposal this week to the board of the East Texas Advanced Academies, the nonprofit organization operating six Longview ISD campuses as charter schools.

Wilcox said if the partnership with US MedTest is approved, he wants the screenings to be a “breath card test.”

“Contrary to some rumors and sensationalists, the ‘brain swab’ has never been on the table,” Wilcox told the ETAA boad. “We are working on the cheek swab (test). This has moved so rapidly (that) we are working on a breath card test — you hold a card in front of your face and blow into it.”

Wilcox said the breath card test can get results in seconds. If a test comes back positive, parents would be contacted, and the student could either get a cheek swab on campus or the parent could get the student tested elsewhere.

Either way, Wilcox said the students who test positive wouldn’t be able return to school until they get a negative test.

“There’s a Swedish company pursuing that (breath card test) technology, an Israeli company and a company here in Texas,” Wilcox said. “The Texas company was actually the leader in the development of this, but that got sidetracked, and now they’re suing each other and they’re getting behind. But we have advances in that every day.”

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, a COVID-19 breath test is in clinical trials and has about 250 participants enrolled. The estimated study completion date is June.

Additionally, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokesman said this week that no COVID-19 breath test has been approved.

The FDA announced in March that state health departments would be given the power to put COVID-19 tests on the market without waiting for federal approval. The Texas Department of State Health Services also has not recognized any type of breath screening for the coronavirus.

Gregg County Health Authority Dr. Lewis Browne said this week that while he has never heard of a coronavirus breath test, he’s sure everyone is trying to come up with different ways to administer such screenings.

“I don’t know how valid that’s going to be, and it may be, but it’s not a very highly recognized test,” he said. “I understand wanting to do something different because everyone’s offended by getting their nose swabbed. The question is how valid is that testing. I’d have to see the data that shows if this is as effective as the other way.”

Browne said a mouth swab test is effective compared with nasal swab screenings.

The partnership between Longview ISD and US MedTest requires board approval.

Wilcox said in August that should the board sign off on the proposal, the district will ask to use federal coronavirus relief funding that was sent to the state and later rescinded.

“There is money there that is still dedicated to Texas,” Wilcox said previously, adding that he hopes Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn can work together to make that money available quickly to fund the project.

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Kristen is the News-Journal's education reporter. A Longview native, she got a journalism degree and a graduate certificate at Texas Tech University. She covers a variety of issues, including school finance, board meetings and happenings at local schools.