TUHSD grapples with COVID-19 test kit shortage


The New York Times

An at-home test kit similar to those sent to AWHS students and faculty to be used before returning to school from winter break.

After requesting  approximately 1400 test kits from the Tamalpais Unified High School District (TUHSD) and the County of Marin Department of Health and Human Services (Marin HHS), AWHS administration sent most of the 1300 students and most faculty members home for Winter Break on Friday, Dec. 17 with a box of two at-home COVID-19 test kits. These tests, detailed in an email from AWHS administration, were to be administered just before returning from Winter Break, once three days before and again the day before the start of school on Jan. 5. This initiative pushed TUHSD’s at-home COVID-19 test supply to it’s limit, leading to a district-wide shortage.

At-home COVID-19 tests, different from laboratory COVID-19 tests, are fast-acting with 15 minute results. With the added convenience of not needing to visit a clinic, testers can digitally self-report their results to their place of work, local health department, or to their school. However, if improperly administered, tests can indicate an incorrect result.

Signage posted at the CVS Pharmacy at the Red Hill Shopping Complex indicating that the pharmacy is out of at-home COVID-19 tests. (Henry Pratt)

AWHS Assistant Principal Chad Stuart says that in addition to an outbreak of COVID-19 in the days leading up to Winter Break and the emergence of the Omicron variant, some TUHSD students prematurely used their COVID-19 test kits or misunderstood testing instructions. After allowing students to pick up additional test kits on campus over break, Stuart says that AWHS only had “a couple hundred” remaining kits available for AWHS students. However, Stuart is hopeful more at-home tests will arrive via Marin HHS and TUHSD.

“Test supplies are short everywhere right now, countywide. So [Marin HSS is] hoping to get more and more [tests] to our school, but we don’t know when. We’re trying to get more, we’re trying to secure more supplies, and the district and the county feels that will happen soon,” Stuart said.

In accordance with the California Department of Public Health’s mandate to provide free COVID-19 testing to all California public school students, Marin HHS sends COVID-19 test shipments to the Marin County Office of Education, which works directly with TUHSD. Due to increased transmission of the COVID-19 Omicron variant and holiday travel, Marin HHS faces challenges in obtaining COVID-19 tests. In a meeting with Marin HHS, Stuart said they recommended searching for alternative methods of securing COVID-19 tests.

“We said ‘Should we try to secure our own [tests]?’ and they said ‘If you can secure your own [tests], secure your own.’..whatever you can get quicker,” Stuart said.

Although TUHSD has a limited supply of at-home testing kits, symptomatic or non-vaccinated students and faculty undergo group testing so they may attend or work on campus. This involves one large vial of an antigen-detecting substance, which has enough fluid to test multiple people instead of just one individual. Stuart hopes to continue this group testing program for the rest of the 2022 school year. 

Similar to TUHSD, local pharmacies also face difficulties in obtaining at-home COVID-19 tests. Operations manager at CVS Pharmacy in the Red Hill Shopping Complex, Russell (declined to provide last name), says that his store often experiences multiple days where it doesn’t have any at-home COVID-19 tests in stock.

Russell says because there is such demand for at-home COVID-19 tests, shipments often arrive irregularly. 

“Yesterday, we didn’t have any [at-home tests], and United Parcel Service (UPS) came and delivered 400 [tests] to us. We had no idea they were showing up…we sold out in about five hours,” Russel said.

Health experts are hopeful that as the Omicron variant continues to spread and the population begins to reach herd immunity, COVID-19 tests will be more readily available. Until then, the TUHSD school district must seek new ways to obtain at-home COVID-19 tests for students and staff.