All three Southern Maryland public school systems have successfully secured a method of testing students and staff who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms, helping to limit the spread of the virus within school buildings.
This week, Calvert County Public Schools announced after partnering with the county’s health department, they have the ability to implement a rapid testing program for staff and students who develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19 while at school.
“We see rapid testing as an important step toward keeping schools open,” Superintendent Daniel Curry said. “By testing as soon as a student or staff member feels ill, we limit exposure to others and mitigate the need to quarantine.”
The addition of the testing program is not intended to take the place of prescreening for symptoms or exposure prior to coming to school. All students and staff members who begin to feel sick prior to the start of the school day have been told to stay home.
School nurses will conduct rapid COVID-19 testing, following the same testing protocol that is standard in medical offices. The school system has eight BD Veritor testing machines located throughout the county. Test samples collected at a school that does not have a testing machine will be transported to the nearest school site with a testing machine.
Consent will be obtained prior to testing any student or staff member, but parents who would like their child tested if they become ill while at school will be encouraged to complete a consent form to be kept on file to expedite the process.
Charles schools do rapid testing outside buildings
Charles County Public Schools have rapid tests available for students and staff who exhibit two or more COVID-19 symptoms. Melissa Golden, a nursing supervisor for the county’s school health program, said this week that rapid testing is complete within a 15 minute interval. If a students were to show symptoms, their parents would then be contacted. After a parent or supervisor arrives at the school to pick up their child and grants permission, a nurse would come out to perform the test in the car and then come back out to reveal the results.
St. Mary’s schools provide tests through health center
In partnership with the local health department, St. Mary’s County Public Schools have their own system to administer testing as well. Polymerase chain reaction or PCR tests are available for all students and staff at the new student-based health centers at Spring Ridge and Margaret Brent middle schools.
Although PCR test results may take longer to receive than rapid test results, the PCR tests are generally more accurate.
Scott Smith, St. Mary’s superintendent, said this week “the centers are open for only students and staff during the school day but also have available hours into the evening for the wider community.”
The school health centers were established through an equity task force, a partnership between the county’s health department, board of education and sheriff’s office, that was established in June. The physical facilities were funded with Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act federal grant money.
The Maryland State Department of Education requires any student or staff member displaying potential symptoms of COVID-19 to stay home for 10 days after the onset of symptoms, unless they have adequate testing that shows the symptoms are not caused by COVID-19.
A single rapid test will miss 10-15% of COVID-19 infections. If the first test at school is negative, there must be a follow-up with a healthcare provider the next day. If the second rapid test is also negative, there is adequate assurance the symptoms are not caused by COVID-19.
This follow-up appointment also allows a doctor or nurse practitioner to screen for other infections, including strep throat and ear infections, both of which often need antibiotics for safe recovery. If the infection is not caused by COVID-19, students and staff may return to school after 24 hours without fever and an improvement in symptoms.