When results came back Wednesday evening for the 214 teachers and students at Somerset High School who had undergone coronavirus testing earlier in the day, one student was found to be positive for the virus. 

Like the others who were tested, the student had shown no symptoms of the virus. 

That demonstrates that the safety protocols the school put in place before opening its doors for in-person instruction on Sept. 8 are working, said Saul Hinojosa, superintendent in the Somerset ISD. 

“But the beauty of this whole thing, and of course one of the goals, is that here’s a student that was present in school who was asymptomatic [and] we were able to identify that student that tested positive and they’re going to be quarantined,” Hinojosa said. “That student could have potentially passed on the virus to other students had we not had the ability to test them.”  

The students and teachers at Somerset were among the first to participate in a new program bringing mass testing for the coronavirus into the San Antonio area. A new nonprofit known as Community Labs provided the rapid-result, low-cost coronavirus testing and funded testing of the 4,000-student district to kick off its program.

Founded by local philanthropic organizations and overseen at BioBridge Global, the Community Labs mission is to regularly test people within a given group, such as schools or workplaces, so that asymptomatic carriers can be quickly identified and isolated before they can spread the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 40 percent of viral transmissions occur before an infected person develops any symptoms. 

Community Labs promised a 24-hour turnaround on its “assurance test” results. But a report for Somerset’s first day of screening came back around 9 p.m. the same day, Hinojosa said. 

When district officials learned of the student’s positive test, they determined that the student had siblings in other schools within the district and contacted the students’ parents the following morning to advise them that they should see a doctor for diagnostic testing. The student cannot return to school for 10 days unless a medical professional clears it. 

Hinojosa could not say when the student who tested positive had started attending classes this fall, but it could have been nearly three weeks by the time testing was conducted on Wednesday. 

On Sept. 30, the same teachers and students will be tested again along with a total of about 1,000 others in the high school, the district’s transportation department, and the Shirleen Zacharias Early College Leadership Academy. 

The first round of testing helped the district and Community Labs determine they need more testing stations in order to speed up the testing and get students and teachers back to class, Hinojosa said. 

“Within the next month or so, hopefully by the end of October, we’re able to go full scale which is every campus, every employee,” he said.

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...