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Putting safety first: COVID-19 testing in schools

By Dr. Charles Cooper, M.D. — April 09, 2021 2 min read
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With declining COVID-19 case numbers, the rising number of available and administered COVID-19 vaccines, and the understood importance of mandated masks in classrooms, safe in-person classes seem to be fast-approaching.

But are schools ready to offer a post-pandemic place to learn?

For months, school administrators, teachers and parents of kids and teens have been faced with the difficult question of whether children can, or should, safely return to in-person learning. But it’s not just concern for students; teachers and staff also have been faced with the decision to compromise personal safety for in-person learning.

The dangerous consequences of making efforts to return to a pre-COVID normal is the loss of vigilance that has safeguarded parents, students, teachers and families thus far. To avoid this, many schools are currently grappling with the decision of how and when to return to school and taking great care to select the right tools and processes for a safe return.

As students and teachers come together in classrooms again, they run the risk of contracting and/or spreading the virus. To mitigate this risk, President Biden recently committed to invest more than $10 billion toward expanding COVID-19 testing in schools to uphold a vigilant stance against the spread. The pledge comes amid a decline in COVID-19 testing as reported by The COVID Tracking Project, which documented a 33% decline in testing since January 2021.

In settings like schools where groups of students and staff regularly congregate, COVID-19 testing should be viewed as critical as mask wearing and social distancing. On-the-spot rapid antigen diagnostic testing has the potential to stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools before it starts; in the event that a student or teacher tests positive, they can be quickly isolated from the rest of the student body.

Rapid antigen testing is an easy-to-implement part of the solution in schools, because the tests are easy to use, low cost, don’t require sophisticated lab equipment or highly trained medical personnel, can be performed in a CLIA waiver point-of-care setting and most importantly, can provide test results in 15 minutes.

Moreover, rapid tests enable students, parents and teachers to feel safe knowing that test results are only 15 minutes away – lifting the burden of concern for physical and emotional wellbeing and providing everyone with the mental space needed to learn.

There is a pronounced need for school leaders and administrators to integrate rapid antigen testing as a cornerstone in planning efforts to bring students back to school. To this end, a handful of states have begun pilot programs to integrate testing at school. The state of Delaware, for one, leads by example by leveraging the speed and accuracy of rapid antigen testing in more than 76 district, charter and private K-12 institutions across the state. This approach has helped enable in-person learning since the start of the year.

BD and the healthcare industry at large are dedicated to keeping people safe from contracting COVID-19, and with rapid antigen testing made available in schools, students can return safely.

Dr. Charles Cooper, M.D. is vice president for Medical and Scientific Affairs at BD, a leading global medical technology company. To learn how BD is supporting back-to-school programs on the heels of being granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for its rapid antigen test to be used for SARS-CoV-2 screening through serial testing, visit bdveritor.com. You can also download BD’s back-to-school diagnostic testing guide, here.

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