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COVID-19 Testing Updates for K-12 School Educators and Students

Children across the country have been suffering a variety of losses due to the pandemic. From social interaction to education, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on kid’s lives and potential futures. Returning children to school before the pandemic is under control or a majority of the country has been vaccinated is a frightening condition. However, there are some steps that can be taken to assist in ensuring safety and health for kids and all that are around them. The priority to keep COVID-19 from spreading in a school environment involves testing children for the virus and a full pandemic strategy in place.

While the world may have had pandemics throughout history, we are benefiting from a high level of technology and instant communication that gives us an edge in fighting COVID-19. With scientists around the globe working together and fast vaccine productions, we can coordinate to reduce the number of people infected and eventually get the virus to a point of control.

Adding Considerations to Current Guidelines

Making decisions for change to accommodate the COVID-19 virus in a school environment should be an addition to existing federal, state, territorial, tribal, or local safety, privacy, or health laws, policies, rules or regulations under which schools operate. Changes, including testing, should be customized for the needs of each community and school system that operates within it.

It should be noted that while funds have been allocated in the 2021 COVID Relief Bill, the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) doesn’t have any authority to regulate testing but is available to help public health officials as they create strategies for K-12 testing and environmental changes to assist in the reduction of the spread of COVID-19 in the school environment.

Testing as Part of a Full Strategy

COVID-19 testing in schools is designed to be just part of an overall strategy to protect students, teachers, families, and staff from the spread of the virus. There are a number of COVID-19 tests now available that can be used for screening, diagnosis, or surveillance for the reduction of an outbreak. Testing compliments a comprehensive strategy that is used to promote additional methods to protect against COVID-19 spread including but not limited to: wearing masks, hand washing, disinfectant wipes/liquids, social distancing, and proper ventilation, and immediate/fast actions to be taken when anyone becomes sick. A strategy should include notification of public health officials if/when a COVID-19 outbreak happens so that administrators can work with health officials for additionally scaled testing to assist in contact tracing and identify those that may have to be isolated or quarantined.

School administrations should work with state and local public health officials to make decisions on the methods of COVID-19 testing in K-12 schools that are operated by the federal government and include help from the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) for COVID-19 testing offered to staff, students, faculty, and all that are employed by the K-12 school. The U.S. Department of Education can offer guidance to K-12 school administration for compliance with FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) as it applies to students for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.

COVID-19 Testing Information

There are currently three types of tests that are given for COVID-19. Molecular tests, also known as “PCR tests,” designed to detect whether there is active COVID-19 virus infection, Antigen tests designed to detect a particular protein associated with COVID-19, and an Antibody test designed to detect specific antibodies that have been created in the body due to infection from COVID-19. It’s important to know the purpose of each test so that appropriate result actions can be taken.

  • Molecular test: Also called the PCR test is used as a diagnosis for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is typically taken with a nasal swab or Nasopharyngeal from part of the throat that is located behind the nose. This type of test is highly accurate. Testing results using the new fast tests can occur within minutes from the test being given.
  • Antigen Test: Also used for diagnostic purposes, it is usually taken via Nasopharyngeal or nasal swab. While a highly accurate test, there is the possibility of false positives, especially in areas where there have been very few confirmed COVID-19 cases. Both negative and positive results may require a molecular test to confirm.
  • Antibody Test: Also called the serological test, serology test, or blood test, it is usually accomplished by drawing blood or through a finger stick. Although accurate, it may require a second antibody test if the individual has been around many that have been diagnosed with COVID-19 for total accuracy. Original tests required from 1-3 days for results, however, new tests can offer results within minutes.

Who Can Give COVID-19 Tests?

In a K-12 school environment there are often school nurses assigned to each school. COVID-19 has altered the requirements as some schools may have enhanced their healthcare facilities to include additional qualified staff as a safety precaution. According to the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) there are a variety of healthcare professionals that can give the COVID-19 tests. As technology improves those qualified may expand. For swab-style tests, many types of healthcare providers that are trained may give the COVID-19 test. For Antibody tests that require drawing blood, only those with phlebotomy training can accommodate this type of test.

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