Community Labs is a nonprofit organization that was created specifically in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides COVID-19 assurance testing for schools and businesses. Assurance testing identifies asymptomatic silent spreaders of COVID-19 by providing 24-hour test results, scale, accuracy, and a less invasive, self-administered test. This creates COVID-19 Safety Zones and a pathway for schools to reopen, people to return to work, and communities to recover.

As program director, I lead discussions with schools and businesses that need testing on their campuses or sites, answer their questions, then implement and support the execution of COVID-19 screenings for their staff and students. This involves multiple Zoom meetings, site visits, and trainings to ensure the program is a success. Currently, we provide weekly testing for 13 school districts on 350 campuses. We also support screenings for 17 businesses and five universities.

I have monthly calls with school district superintendents and adjust our service as needed for their districts. It is the same for businesses that are testing with us. I ensure the lab is aware of the number of tests that must be accomplished for each school district and business. This allows us to make sure our turnaround time is within 24 hours, and we have the supplies needed to deliver on our promise to customers.

Katt Slagle takes her weekly COVID-19 screening at Geekdom where she and her team operate from.
Katt Slagle takes her weekly COVID-19 screening at Geekdom where she and her team operate the day-to-day business of Community Labs. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

I do this all with the help of a dedicated team of five program staff and over 40 technicians.

My favorite part of the day is when I visit campuses and observe our screenings with staff and students. We screen all ages in these schools, and the early childhood centers are my absolute favorite campuses to attend. For me, seeing little 3-year-olds swab their noses brings meaning to the work my team and I do every day. These are our future leaders, and we take pride in bringing safety to their classrooms. I hear stories from parents and staff about how Community Labs’ testing provides a sense of safety and confidence for their children’s in-person education.

It has been a little over a year since I joined Community Labs, and I would not be here if it weren’t for my mentors and the generous philanthropists we have in our city. Graham Weston, co-founder of Community Labs, and I have known each other for a couple of years now. He asked me to take notes during early meetings when he, Tullos Wells of the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, and J. Bruce Bugg, Jr. of the Tobin Endowment were brainstorming the idea for Community Labs. If you told me a year ago, I would become the program director for this nonprofit, I would have brushed it aside. It’s the people who believed in me that got me here, including my mentors Alexandra Frey with 80/20 Foundation, Tullos Wells, and Lorenzo Gomez, chairman of Geekdom. Through these mentors, I have been able to learn more about COIVD-19, our education system in Texas, and I was challenged to showcase my skills to execute our program across school districts in Bexar County and beyond.

My relationship-building and strategic planning skills have helped me in partnering with schools and businesses to properly plan testing programs at their sites. Through my work at Community Labs, I have gained lab and emergency management skills. This role also challenged me to be a better supporter of the San Antonio community. Though I attended high school in San Antonio and have been here for more than 15 years, this role has taken me to parts of the city I had no idea existed. We have so much talent here in San Antonio, and I am excited to see the children we serve grow, share their stories, and bring value to our community.

Visiting school campuses and seeing students take part in our COVID-19 screening program is only one of the rewarding aspects of the work I do every day. Another rewarding piece is observing the collaboration between school districts to help support education in Bexar County. It has been encouraging to see how our educators strive to bring safety to their campuses while also supporting our city as a whole. I am honored to be a part of these conversations with school administrators.

A Community Labs employee holds out a vial for a student’s test swab at Elolf Elementary School of Judson ISD. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

There are challenges we face every day as a team. Who wouldn’t have challenges during this pandemic? Every day there is some new issue to deal with. It could be adjusting our process to a new assay we are using in the lab, learning how to implement new procedures during testing on site, or even educating our customers and my team on the latest information about this ever-evolving COVID-19 virus. I must make time to find 15 minutes every morning to read any updates to the community about the virus and then find 15 minutes at the end of the day to reflect on those findings. It impacts the work I do every day.

As more children get vaccinated, we will continue to emphasize the importance of testing on campuses for asymptomatic students. This is important because there is not a requirement for every student to receive the vaccine and because students (vaccinated or not) can still be carriers of the virus. As we hope to see the COVID-19 cases continue to decrease, we are hoping to continue lab operations in partnerships with BioBridge Global and look into other molecular tests we can offer to our schools and businesses.

It is my mission to help ensure the safety of our community during this pandemic, and I take this responsibility very seriously. This city, county, and the schools, businesses, and people we serve are worth it.

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Katt Slagle

Katt Slagle is the program director at Community Labs.