District Providing Free COVID-19 Saliva Testing
Students 12 and older, staff and their families participated in a free COVID-19 vaccination clinic in early May held at Jackson Park Elementary School. The District now also offers free, non-invasive saliva testing for all SDUC community members who are feeling symptoms related to COVID-19.
The School District of University City is now able to offer free COVID-19 saliva testing to its greater community thanks to an $8 million research program that includes Washington University and the National Institutes of Health.
The free testing became available to the community in late May and will be offered through the entire 2021-22 school year. Any student, staff member or individual living with a staff member or student is eligible for testing if they are experiencing signs or symptoms of COVID-19.
Easily accessible testing is available Sunday through Friday by calling 314-454-4269. The easy test requires participants to spit a saliva sample in a collection tube and does not require an invasive nasal swab.
“This is an absolutely fantastic opportunity for our school community,” said Superintendent Sharonica-Hardin Bartley. “This service can act to close health disparities that harm our African-American families regarding COVID-19. By having testing readily available to everyone in our community, we can better ensure that the virus is detected and further prevented from spreading to our loved ones and those most vulnerable to it.”
Under the new program, called RADx-UP, Washington University will further be able to provide weekly saliva testing to all University City High School students and staff members so the District can better detect sometimes asymptomatic active cases which can cause transmission, quarantines and continued disruptions to learning. The testing will be on a voluntary basis, but Hardin-Bartley is hopeful that the students and staff will take advantage of the easy test that can be collected at home or at the nurse’s office in school. The preventative testing has already started in the high school with summer school students and staff.
“I can’t think of a better way to show your Heart and Health of a Lion by taking advantage of this new testing opportunity for the high school, especially as they return to five days a week of in-person instruction,” Hardin-Bartley said. “It truly is an easy way to care for your entire community so it can thrive during hard times. Our students and families have endured a lot of sorrow, worry and loss due to COVID. I’m certain our students and staff will stand up for their school by participating in this profound way.”
The District was invited to join the project by Dr. Jason Newland, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist who treats patients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. During the past school year, Newland spoke in generous detail during meetings with both district staff and parents about the most up-to-date research on COVID-19 and transmission in schools. He has also been readily available to help the District with its contact tracing efforts during the 2020-21 school year after students returned to school buildings at all grade levels.
During a District Town Hall in May, Newland told parents that University City Schools has done a tremendous job putting into place the correct remediation protocols to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. This includes effective masking, physical distancing, and organized and vigilant contact tracing. Additionally, preliminary research finds that transmission of COVID-19 in schools using masking and physical distancing is rare, Newland said.
However, Newland noted, research and demographics show that African American and other minority students living in economically under-resourced communities were more likely to lose significant in-person instruction time during the pandemic and may further be lacking internet access and other necessary support for successful remote learning.
The research project aims to evaluate whether frequent COVID-19 testing of asymptomatic students, staff and teachers in schools serving under-resourced populations can help to reduce the spread of the virus when such testing is incorporated with proven safety measures.
This past school year, the number of active cases in the U. City Schools community rarely exceeded a tenth of one percent of the staff and student population. The transmission within schools was also found to be very rare, Newland told parents during the Town Hall. Despite the relatively few cases, there were significant numbers of students and staff quarantined both before and after vaccinations began, causing students to miss out on classroom time and other valuable school activities, including plays, performances and presentations - not to mention important teacher and peer social and emotional support.
Furthermore, the quarantines may cause families, particularly African American families, to be reluctant to return their students to in-person instruction this past year for fear of the virus spreading to high-risk individuals in their homes and beyond.
Newland said he hopes that the testing will give further peace of mind and safety for students and parents so they can be back in school. The St. Louis RADX-Up project focuses on five school districts in St. Louis County with high percentages of African-American students: Normandy, Jennings, University City, Pattonville, and Ferguson-Florissant. Other parts of the project both in St. Louis County and in Maryland, focusing on whether testing can reduce transmission in high-risk student populations that include individuals with developmental disabilities.
- More information about the University City High School routine saliva testing for COVID-19 will be shared later this summer with parents of students entering grades 9-12.
- Click here for a District Town Hall video of Dr. Newland discussing COVID-19 research in schools, and the very low transmission rates found in U. City Schools.
- Click here for the District's COVID-19 Dashboard that details current active cases and quarantines by schools.
- Click here to read Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley's opinion piece in the St. Louis American about being African American and getting vaccinated
- Click here to see the District's Health of a Lion COVID-19 safety plan and protocols.
- Click here for printable PDF of WUSTL COVID-19 Testing Schedule