Some Nogales schools began conducting voluntary group COVID-19 screenings, called “pooled testing,” this week.

In an email sent Thursday, Nogales Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Angel Canto said “a few” test pools had already come up positive, and follow-up individual testing found two people who had asymptomatic COVID-19 infections.

“The process went very smoothly and I anticipate that parents who have not yet agreed to participate will likely want to provide consent,” Canto wrote in the email, which was shared with the NI by Superintendent Fernando Parra.

Test samples were taken at NUSD elementary and middle schools, as well as for athletes at NHS, she added. Canto didn’t specify how many students and staff participated in the pooled testing and it wasn’t clear how many total infections were identified by this week’s tests, though she noted that follow-up testing helped identify two asymptomatic people whose cases were referred to the Santa Cruz County Health Services Department for contact tracing.

Pooled testing is the process of combining samples – in this case nasal swabs – from multiple people and testing them together. Parra indicated in a previous email to NUSD staff and families that the district is conducting pooled tests for classrooms; if a classroom pool comes back positive, students and staff there take individual tests to determine which people are infected with COVID-19.

Parra called the pooled testing system “another tool to help maintain a safe and healthy school environment.”

Local schools returned to in-person learning last month in the midst of a surge in COVID-19 cases and political battles over pandemic precautions in classrooms. Classes at NUSD schools began on Aug. 4.

During the first two weeks of school, NUSD identified 13 total cases of COVID-19 at its campuses, according to numbers Parra provided to the NI on Aug. 18.

Only two of the cases were at elementary schools, whose students are too young to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Nine were at middle schools, where the student population is a mix of youth older and younger than 12 – the minimum age for vaccination. Another two cases were at Nogales High School.

The pooled testing is offered for free to students and staff and NUSD is also planning to provide free rapid testing to anyone who develops COVID-19 symptoms while at school, Parra said. He didn’t say who is paying for the tests, but said that NUSD is working with the county and state health departments as well as a private test provider.

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