- Southwood Elementary School
At-school Covid testing to begin in January
Lenoir County Public Schools plans to begin on-site rapid testing for Covid-19 in mid-January as part of a pilot program developed by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
On Thursday, NCDHHS announced 17 public school districts and 11 charter schools as participants in the program, which is designed is to slow the spread of Covid-19 by quickly identifying students and staff who may have the virus, especially after the holiday season, according to the state agency.
“The test isn’t really looking for the negatives; it’s looking for the positives,” said LCPS school nurse April Hardy said. “We’re going to have those students who don’t have one of those exclusionary symptoms like a cough or fever but they might have a runny nose. We test them and if they show up positive, then we’ve found a positive that we probably wouldn’t have sent home based upon our guidelines.”
Hardy supervises the district’s testing and contact tracing activities and serves as its liaison to the Lenoir County Health Department, a partner in the school district’s application to be part of the pilot program.
To be selected for the first phase of the program, school districts and charter schools had to confirm to their local health department that each participating school can:
· obtain parental/guardian consent prior to testing,
· maintain adequate supplies of personal protective equipment,
· have trained personnel to administer tests or partner with a local health
· report test results to state and local public health agencies.
Schools and districts selected for the program are offering full in-person instruction (Plan A) or hybrid remote and in-person instruction (Plan B).
“We are excited to offer this opportunity to LCPS students. This program furthers our commitment to provide the safest learning experience for all students and staff members,” Assistant Superintendent Nicholas Harvey II said.
LCPS expects to sending consent forms home to parents the week of Jan. 4, when students return from Christmas break. In-school testing could begin the next week, according to Hardy.
“What we’re looking for are those students and staff who are showing Covid-like symptoms or if we identify someone in the school who is a close contact of someone positive,” she said. “Instead of parents or staff members running around for hours looking for a testing location, we’re going to be able to do that for them.”
Schools in the pilot will use the Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen test card, which uses a nasal swab to detect COVID-19 and provides results in 15 minutes without laboratory processing. The swab must be performed by trained personnel. LCPS received 2,500 tests initially and will have access to more as needed, according to Hardy.
“For students or staff who are symptomatic and are showing those symptoms that we are excluding them from school for – cough, shortness of breath, fever, loss of taste or smell – if we did a test on them and the test comes back negative, they will have to have that confirmed with a lab test,” Hardy said.
Participation in the pilot program will not change the district’s existing procedure for communicating with people in the schools who test positive, contact tracing, providing quarantine information and local reporting. It will now be required to report test results, both positive and negative, to the state, which will also have a role in contact tracing.
“This program gives us another tool in our toolkit to slow the spread of Covid-19 across our state and to keep children in the classroom, which we know is vital not only to their academic growth but also to their health and emotional development,” Dr. Mandy K. Cohen, NCDHHS secretary, said in a news release. “We are thankful to the local education agencies and local health departments in the pilot program for their partnership in these efforts.”