New reports looks at the efficacy of COVID-19 testing in schools

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A majority of students in Eastern Washington are still learning remotely. There is no specific timeline of when they will return. However, the Washington State Department of Health is looking into another safety measure, hopefully to bring kids back sooner and minimize the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

The possible new safety measure is to test students and staff for COVID-19 in schools.

School districts currently make their own decision for COVID-19 reopening plans and this would be another decision they’d make themselves.

The department of health received a new report Thursday from the Institute for Disease Modeling, which helps health officials make some decisions. The report is about how testing for COVID-19 in schools will or will not help mitigate the risk of the virus among students and staff. This model is based on numbers of COVID-19 transmission in King County a month ago, before the rise in cases happened.

RELATED: Safety measures in schools cuts COVID-19 transmission risk to just 2%, according to report from DOH, IDM

Daniel Klein, the senior research manager for the Institute for Disease Modeling, says the use of testing in schools might not be as effective as they had thought.

“Testing everybody routinely every week or every other week, what we’re saying is many of those tests would come back negative,” Klein said.

That’s because the measures schools are taking now – hand hygiene, mask-wearing and social distancing – are helping.

“We have seen COVID-19 be introduced into the schools, and one thing that’s reassuring in our data is that we’re not seeing large explosive outbreaks when COVID-19 is introduced into the school,” explained Kathy Lofy, the state’s health officer.

Testing for COVID-19 in school would be more helpful in places where those other safety measures aren’t working as well, Klein added.

The health department did say that some school districts in the state are already testing in schools, but no further comment was given on how it’s going. It’s also looking at some pilot programs at other schools to use rapid testing – which could help give results 15 minutes after taking the test – allowing people to know if they need to go home right away or come back to school sooner.

The department says it is working on guidance and methodology for testing in schools. While that’s still in the works, there are concerns that the community can help address now – that’s the rise in positive cases.

“If we want to open schools or even get more kids back in schools whether its a few weeks from now or in January, if we want to celebrate the holidays with a few close friends and family, we have to double down our efforts right now,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, the deputy secretary of health for COVID-19 response with the state department of health.

To read more on the report, click here.

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