ADHS, ASU collaboration creates COVID-19 testing sites for K-12 districts

The collaboration will create eight new sites in Chandler, Flagstaff, Globe, Miami, south Phoenix, Tempe, Tucson and Yuma

ASU and the Arizona Department of Health Services have teamed up to open eight new COVID-19 testing sites for K-12 school districts in some of the state’s most underserved communities, and also provide educational programs for teachers and marketing materials for districts.

The eight new testing sites will exclusively serve teachers and staff at schools in participating districts and the other existing public testing sites are accessible to all other community members, including parents and students, a press release said.

The new sites offer surveillance testing for 20% of all teachers and staff on a weekly basis. Teachers and staff also have priority registration at the public testing sites, and ADHS has expanded hours to handle the increased tests at four of the eight public sites.

The costs of the new testing sites, educational programs and marketing materials are covered under the University’s broader partnership with ADHS to provide COVID-19 response efforts, which includes free access to ASU’s saliva-based COVID-19 test for Arizonans.

Michelle Villegas-Gold, project manager who oversees health and clinical partnerships at ASU Knowledge Enterprise, said ADHS and ASU have already created five new testing sites in communities across the state since January.

Chandler Unified School District, Tucson Unified School District, Amphitheater Public Schools in Tucson, Flagstaff Unified School District and the Roosevelt Elementary School District in south Phoenix have all received new sites.

Villegas-Gold said ASU and ADHS have plans to set up two more testing sites in Tucson and another in Yuma and, according to a press release by the University. ASU hopes to eventually expand to other districts and make the tests at those new sites available for students as well.

ASU is also providing the districts with other resources, like educational programs for teachers to learn how to effectively teach virtually and communication materials.

According to the press release, these materials are similar to the "Community of Care" marketing tools that aim to inform each district how to implement public health protocols to reduce community spread within their schools.

Chicanos Por La Causa, a nonprofit that provides services to defend and protect the Latine and Spanish-speaking population, joined ASU and ADHS to provide testing at the Cartwright Elementary School District and Vista College Prep in Phoenix where 50% of teachers do not own cars and cannot access drive-thru testing.

While longer hours at testing sites will increase accessibility for teachers and staff who work long hours, executive vice president of social services and education for CPLC Andres Contreras said more accommodations are essential in providing COVID-19 resources for underserved communities. 

“As long-standing community partners, we understood that we had to deploy a strategic approach to facilitate access to vulnerable populations facing pre-COVID barriers such as language, transportation and access to healthcare and technology,” Contreras wrote in an email Thursday.

Because people of color make up a large percentage of the individuals within the underserved communities ASU and ADHS are attempting to support, Villegas-Gold said operations must pivot to make the testing sites approachable and accommodating.

“We’ve heard that there’s language barriers, but there may also be barriers with people being fearful of immigration or things like that and having to show I.D.,” Villegas-Gold said. “So we’ve been really trying to find workarounds so that everyone feels safe going to get tested and that there’s no barriers to going to get tested.”

On Wednesday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order requiring all Arizona schools to offer in-person learning by March 15, and the collaboration between ASU and ADHS aims to help schools reopen safely this spring.

Terry Locke, the director of community relations for Chandler Unified School District, said his community is pleased to partner with ASU and ADHS because “it is an important tool for staff and students” to remain safe when they return to in-person learning.


Reach the reporter at kkwilso5@asu.edu and follow @kaceywilson_ on Twitter. 

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