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Free COVID-19 Testing For Hillsborough School Staff Excludes Many Part-Timers

lab worker with test tubes
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Teachers and staff can find out if they have COVID-19 within 24 to 72 hours. But they have to have the school system's health insurance plan to qualify for testing.

A new partnership that provides free COVID-19 testing to Hillsborough County Public School staff could leave out some vulnerable employees.

To get the free test through a partnership with Tampa General Hospital, district employees must have a Humana insurance plan provided through the school system. Part-time employees who don't sign up for the insurance would be excluded, said Hillsborough School Board Member Karen Perez.

She raised the concern during a press call on Monday about how reopening schools disproportionately puts Black and Hispanic communities at-risk.

She said the partnership is a great thing, but the insurance requirement leaves too many employees behind.

"And they're the ones who, a lot of them, are our bus drivers, our custodial workers, and our lunchroom, amazing nutritional staff, who do only work part-time,” said Perez.

Hillsborough Schools will schedule testing appointments for teachers and staff with COVID-19 symptoms or a suspected exposure at one of the eleven TGH Urgent Care facilities in the Tampa Bay region. Results can be expected within 24 to 72 hours.

“We have a responsibility to provide a safe back-to-school experience for our staff, while reducing the spread of this challenging virus, and this opportunity ultimately provides a step towards normalcy for the Tampa Bay area,” said Superintendent of Schools Addison Davis in a press release.

How reopening schools could affect Hispanic families

During the same call, State Sen. Janet Cruz and Rep. Susan Valdes, both Tampa Democrats, pointed to other reasons Hispanic communities are disproportionately affected by school reopenings.

They pointed to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that shows Hispanic children have a higher risk of being hospitalized from COVID-19.

Sen. Cruz also said many Hispanic students have parents who are essential workers or are struggling financially, so virtual schooling is often not an option for them.

“I represent 152,000 Latinos. I’m a Latina myself and this is personal to me,” said Cruz. "Without legislation to protect these families, their children are forced back into these schools because under our broken unemployment system there’s no secure financial relief for these parents.

"Our Hispanic families are also more likely to be misinformed on COVID-19 due to language barriers, putting them in what I consider, a vulnerable position when it comes to making the best decisions for their family.”

Rep. Valdes added that many Hispanic students lack access to quality health care and live in multigenerational households with grandparents, aunts and uncles.

“And the senior population as we know is uniquely vulnerable,” she said. “A child's schooling shouldn't have to be a death sentence for a loving grandparent.”

The lawmakers are calling for more Spanish-language education about COVID-19 prevention to help protect Hispanic students and their families.