The California Department of Education suggested antigen testing to reopening districts during a webinar Wednesday.
Abbott’s BinaxNOW home testing kit delivers results in 15 minutes for just $5, which Tony Thurmond, state superintendent, presented as a good solution for in-school testing.
He encouraged interested districts to start the tests now because Assembly Bill 86, which was passed last week, reimburses districts for COVID-19 reopening expenses.
“We know that many of our schools have already been asking about antigen testing and rapid testing as a way of helping them to get sports going again — and we want to help them with that, but we think that rapid testing is a great way for schools to really address their day-to-day needs as many of our students come back to campus,” Superintendent Thurmond said in a media briefing.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s evaluation of the BinaxNOW test concluded that the kit is helpful to isolate individuals sooner and reduce transmission, but those with negative test results should still take all health and safety precautions.
“We see this as a suite of strategies that need to be used. We just think that the rapid COVID tests are going to be so important if you can get your results in 15 minutes,” Superintendent Thurmond said.
Even vaccinated individuals can transmit the virus, he noted.
“With the layers of protocols and safety measures and mask wearing and everything else, the one safety measure that really gives us an immediate reaction to whether you are potentially a COVID-positive person, is the antigen test,” Roy Mendiola, superintendent of McSwain Union Elementary School District, said.
Superintendent Mendiola’s school district is piloting the antigen testing program. So far, the district has identified five positive test results.
Because the district is testing staff two times a week, they have caught cases before the staff members make contact with anyone else.
Before opening campuses after winter break, the district tested staff members for the virus prior to students returning.
“People that are concerned that they are close contacts, rather than sending them home, we can send them in for a quick self swabbing each day. And each day that they are cleared negative, we’ll send them to campus,” he said.
The district is keeping all masking, distancing and hand-washing precautions in place.
“We think that schools are today the safest place in the community to be,” Dr. Tony Iton, senior vice president of Healthy Communities at the California Endowment, said. “We think that with this testing they’ll be even safer for students, for teachers and for staff.”
Dr. Iron oversees an 11-district pilot program. The program has a test positivity rate of .2%.
A video showed children self-swabbing their test kits, demonstrating that students can swab their sample themselves.
He said the biggest obstacle is the demand on time.
“We’re excited to know that, you know, more than 200,000 educators have received the vaccine,” Superintendent Thurmond said. “We think that while these have been tough times, things are accelerating to how we help our schools get open and stay open safely. And we think that rapid COVID testing is a huge part of that.”