Will rapid COVID-19 tests help K-12 schools?
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Shortly before he was diagnosed with COVID-19, President Trump announced that the federal government would begin distributing millions of rapid coronavirus tests. The goal is to use them to urge faster reopening of K-12 schools. As virus cases continue to pile up, some school districts have announced staggered and hybrid learning modules for fall 2020 and beyond.
About Abbott Laboratories' BinaxNOW tests
The tests are a part of the previously announced supply of 150 million ordered from Abbott Laboratories. A total of 100 million tests will be distributed to the states, according to their population. While ostensibly they are to be used as governors see fit, the Trump administration is emphasizing testing and prioritizing K-12 schools.
The reason, according to the administration, is simple. They feel regularizing learning is important to the physical, social and emotional development of students.
The Abbott tests, the size of a credit card, deliver results in about 15 minutes without the need for special computer equipment. They not only deliver rapid results but are also low-cost and come in an easy-to-use format. They cost about $5 to $6 apiece, compared to the traditional swab, which is $100 a piece.
Parents and schools will immediately know whether an asymptomatic child has COVID-19. Some states could opt for baseline surveillance and test a certain proportion of students per week or month.
Will the tests help?
Abbott’s tests will help meet the testing backlog for COVID-19, which has led to repeated delays in reporting results in the past months. High-grade medical laboratories are more accurate, but they take several days to process. Abbott reported positive cases may still have to be sent to higher-grade labs for confirmation, but the overall backlog could reduce.
There is one major cause of worry, though. State officials feel that many tests are going unreported because the tests are often performed outside the healthcare system. It could skew the government data needed to track the virus and lead to undercounts of new cases.
According to a report by the nonprofit Rockefeller Foundation, the U.S. will need roughly 200 million tests per month to reopen schools safely. Right now, we are averaging fewer than 30 million tests per month.
How are states responding?
Oklahoma announced that it had received about 77,000 rapid point-of-care COVID-19 tests. The Oklahoma State Department of Health will prioritize the distribution of these Abbott Laboratories BinaxNOW tests and equipment to K-12 schools. Next, they are deploying them to health care workers and vulnerable populations.
Arizona, which will get more than 2 million rapid COVID-19 tests from the federal government, announced that it, too, will prioritize K-12 schools. County health experts and local authorities will decide which schools and facilities will get the tests. Next, they will focus on vulnerable populations, including those with developmental disabilities and foster care.
Tennessee's governor echoed the above statements and said that its first 133,000 of the projected 2 million tests would be deployed to reopen public K-12 schools across the state. The rapid point-of-care coronavirus test kits will also help the state in its continued approach to protect the elderly in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
Washington state and Oregon are ready to deploy the rapid tests as well. The former expects to receive 2.3 million of the rapid tests by the end of the year. Oregon will receive 60,000 to 80,000 new rapid Abbott BinaxNOW antigen tests per week through the end of the year. The increased testing capacity will help diagnose and treat more people quickly, isolate and quarantine people, helping contain the virus. The more it is contained, the easier it will be to reopen schools and help life get back to normal.
While there are concerns about the authenticity of reporting and meeting backlog effectively, state leaders and public health officials hope that the rapid tests will make them more agile in making public health decisions related to business operations and school reopening. The administration hopes that the tests will help schools to stay open, and parents return to work.
With the renewed panic of the second wave of COVID-19, the tests will help diagnose people fast. Some states are already reporting a spike, provoking fears in the populace.
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