California school system sends every student and staff home with a Covid-19 antigen test for the holidays – KION546
By Lauren M. Johnson, CNN
With the Omicron variant Rapidly spreading across the United States, several school districts are sending Covid-19 antigen tests home for the holidays to help curb a spike when they return to school in January.
School systems include Marin County Schools in California, Chicago Public Schools, several towns in Massachusettsand the San Diego Unified School District.
Home testing is business as usual for Marin County in California
For Marin County schools in California, home testing is nothing new for their teachers and students, Superintendent Mary Jane Burke told CNN.
The school system used the tests throughout the year and over Thanksgiving, but because they were in short supply they were only used for those who were symptomatic – an issue they intended to address for the holidays of winter.
“It’s been good for us as a strategy, so everyone feels comfortable, and you get the information right away instead of waiting for a PCR test, where people are out of school, and our goal has been to keep the kids in school,” Burke said.
On Dec. 1, the California Department of Public Health sent out a memo saying it had a better supply of tests and asked how much the school system needed. Since they were testing and keeping track of information, Burke said she knew exactly what to ask.
“We knew we needed exactly 47,000 tests,” she said. “That includes all of our public, private, independent, parochial…everyone in the county.”
Each child and member of staff will receive a test, and they have been sent an email giving them instructions in English and Spanish on how to administer the test, as well as a way to call for help if needed. they needed it.
“Our hope then is that, given the fact that we have the availability of testing, we will force everyone to take a test before returning to school, including teachers and staff,” Burke said.
The success of the initiative from day one of the pandemic has been the county’s public health department, and Burke said they wouldn’t be where they are without the help of the county’s public health officer. , Dr. Matt Willis.
In fact, it was the Department of Health that notified a county primary school one child who tested positive was still attending school.
“We recognized the testing was going to be critical,” Willis told CNN. “The fact that we were able to get tests when a child developed symptoms or a member of staff developed symptoms was key, so we did home testing throughout.”
Willis said while some question the sensitivity of home testing as opposed to PCR, home testing is great for what concerns them most; how contagious an individual is. Not forgetting some low income families do not have direct access to PCR testing, and home testing helps fill the gap.
“We were shooting ourselves in the foot by holding on to this expectation of really relying on PCR testing, and that was part of our innovation to really relying on home testing as much as possible,” Willis said. “I think there was this feeling that it was too complex. But it is quite manageable for families.
However, Willis said PCR testing isn’t out of the question. In fact, an at-home test may require a follow-up PCR in some cases.
The partnership between the public health department and the education system, Burke said, not only helped try to keep children in school, but provided key information to help both entities identify where the spread is occurring. and building trust with the community.
“We all prioritize having the safest place for kids to go to school, and we prioritized that from day one of the shutdown,” Burke said. “Also, our vaccination rates are incredible. We are in the high (60%) with our 5-11 year olds with no adverse reactions.
It’s a feat that Burke attributes to the partnership with the public health department.
Chicago and Massachusetts are also distributing tests
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) will distribute 150,000 tests to the most vulnerable students to take on Dec. 28, according to WLS, a CNN affiliate.
“Research shows us that most of the COVID cases we see in CPS are not due to school spread. They are due to social situations like play dates and family gatherings that have fewer protections in place than our schools,” CPS CEO Pedro Martinez told WLS. “We know families will be reuniting for the holidays, so we are providing these tests to our most at-risk students, to help reduce the spread of COVID and protect our school communities.”
Families who do not take a test are still encouraged to test their children before they return to class.
Similarly, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker identified 102 cities in the state most at risk of Covid spread and released home tests for each on Monday.
Revere Public School is one of the schools receiving tests and the plan is for all 7,600 students to take one home, city public health director Lauren Buck told CNN affiliate WBZ.
The governor said there is also a plan in place for cities that do not receive state testing. They will be able to purchase them on behalf of their residents by January.
“These tests will be particularly useful as we head into the holiday season. People can use them to check for the virus which they can safely gather with family and friends,” Baker said.
CDC agrees testing is key to keeping kids in school
CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, said measures implemented by school systems can certainly help track transmission and help eliminate the need for masking, a contentious topic since students returned to class.
“Regular surveillance testing of asymptomatic people is an important layer of protection. Vaccination and testing are enough to replace the need for masks,” Wen said.
“We need to make home testing the norm, before children go to school, before families get together, etc.,” she added.
The FDA has cleared 14 over-the-counter options for rapid testing, which makes it difficult for Americans to access antigen testing on a regular basis, and cost has also been an issue.
Rapid and at-home screening could become routine whether manufacturers can get the green light and keep the tests on the shelves.
The CDC agrees that testing is key to keeping kids in school and releasing new information about a practice known as testing to stay.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said friday it works to keep children in classrooms safe, even if they have been exposed to the virus that causes Covid-19.
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