Members of the Socorro girl’s basketball team work with coach Pepe Alvarado in November. Socorro is going to begin to use rapid testing so athletes can practice and scrimmage.
Caitie Ihrig | El Defensor Chieftain

Socorro Consolidated Schools discussed the use of rapid testing for athletics during the Board of Education meeting on Monday.

“We didn’t put this on the board as an approval thing because I felt like this was the way for us to go unless the board has any kind of reservation,” Superintendent Ron Hendrix said. “We just want to move forward with this. We are excited about trying to figure out something to get our kids back to school and this was certainly a step in that direction.”

City of Socorro Mayor Rhavi Bhasker spoke during the meeting and said the school district has the support of the city to use rapid testing to get students back to playing sports.

According to Bhasker, the city would supply the tests, the EMTs to administer the tests and the CLIA number which is required to administer.

Bhaskar said that the testing would come at no cost to the district or the student’s family. The cost of the rapid test would first go through the student’s insurance company and if it is denied or the student doesn’t have insurance, the city would cover the cost of the test.

The rapid test is $24.

“I had money set aside to do a summer youth program,” Bhasker said. “We spent about $160,000 on that. I had money set aside to do recreation programs and I have not been able to come through for the youth or the parents on these programs. We have money set aside that we were going to use for youth activities — swimming pool, basketball, little league baseball… I have money set aside that I  want to try and use to promote and move us forward.”

He was unable to get any money from the state for the testing.

During the meeting, Bhasker encouraged the school district to also look into the COVID-19 Ag Card that has been made available to school districts throughout New Mexico.

The Ag Card is done by Abbott and is an at-home COVID-19 test that costs $5 and is not a deep nasal test. According to their website, the results are known in 15 minutes.

Bhasker said he believes this will help control the spread of the coronavirus because the parents and the school district will be able to immediately separate any students who have COVID-19 before spreading it to other students.

“We are just making an offering and according to whatever the NMAA and the PED says, we certainly will try to be adaptive to that and flex to that,” he said. “In my opinion, if we do rapid testing, you at least have something that you can hang onto as far as the safety of our children. Nothing is 100 percent, but closing the schools down completely and closing the businesses down is 0 percent.”

The board also discussed possibly using rapid testing to get more of the students, especially secondary students back in school.

“What stops us from becoming a leader in the state and doing this for all of our students and moving forward and starting trying to get kids back in school,” board member Dave Hicks said. “Is that an option? Someone has to put a foot forward first. If we have the resources here and the city behind us, we have the college behind us, why not make a move and go forward…”

Bhasker said he would support getting more students back in the classroom as long as it is done in a safe manner and the students would still be able to social distance, including while in the hallways.

Hendrix doesn’t think there would be any reservations by having the students rapid testing, but said they would not be able to make it mandatory.

“We do have some families that would object if we made it mandatory,” he said. “If we offered it to all of our students, we could do that…with secondary starting up, this would be one more step in the right direction telling people we are ready to go and get our kids back where they belong.”

Hicks said that he thinks rapid testing the students would allow for 60 or 70 percent of them to return to in-person learning.

Throughout the meeting, Bhasker, Hendrix and Hicks referenced New Mexico Tech and how there are more than 1,000 students doing in-person learning on campus.

Before allowing students back on campus, every student and staff and faculty member had to be tested.

Bhasker said that Tech is going to continue testing students and will be testing 10 or 15 percent of the student population for the next two weeks.

For the school district, Bhasker said he would like to see the students tested more than that to ensure safety.

“I would want, and I’m sure the parents would too, to make sure we are doing a little more testing to make sure the students are healthy… With testing, with public health safety measures, which you guys are already doing, I think it’s great,” he said. “We should be able to get 100 percent, but we have to work towards it. We have to tell the parents it’s a safe measure to do this.”