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Minnesota to expand COVID-19 testing options in schools

Oct 07, 2021 06:11AM ● By Editor
Gov. Tim Walz speaks outside of a school building Wednesday about the need to expand COVID-19 testing options. "We need everyone to participate in this. I need all our school buildings to participate," Walz said.  Photo: Elizabeth Shockman | MPR News

By Elizabeth Shockman of Minnesota Public Radio News - October 7, 2021

Students who experience COVID-19 symptoms at school will still be sent home, but now, state officials say they can take a rapid COVID test home with them. 

“If we can isolate and find out cases right away, not only can we protect the health of that individual child or staff member, we can keep the building in place without having to isolate the entire building and send folks home,” Gov. Tim Walz said on Wednesday. 

The state is making rapid at-home tests available to districts that request them. It’s also handing out grant money to districts that want to hire additional staff or need other help with the logistics of regular testing in schools. 

    Walz said he wanted districts to use the supplies to offer more testing opportunities to students and staff. 

    “We need everyone to participate in this. I need all our school buildings to participate. We know that the buildings are at the forefront of the fight, districts are leading the charge and the state is here to provide all of the guidance and supplies that we need,” Walz said. “That supply chain is there waiting — we just need to implement that and put it in. We made it clear to the federal government that they are going to have to, and they committed this week to doing so.”

    The North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale district has already requested rapid at-home BinaxNOW COVID-19 antigen tests and has begun using them. Kelly Ayd, the district’s health services supervisor, said students who are symptomatic are sent to the nurse’s office to be  assessed.

    “Once they’ve had a conversation with a parent or guardian on the phone, they let them know, your student is presenting with these symptoms, it’s consistent with COVID, we have an opportunity to take this test, you can do it at home, you’ll get results in 15 minutes,” Ayd said. “It just removes so many of those barriers.”

    Ayd said the tests have so far been well-received and popular. The district is also planning initiatives to expand other COVID-19 mitigation strategies, including the ability to send rapid tests home with students for other possibly exposed household members. 

    “[We’re looking at] expanding testing for a broader part of our community, whether that means getting staff in to do more on demand testing, or vaccine events that we have hosted and will continue to host,” Ayd said. “We want to look at it across the board and look at all the different things we can do to keep our community safe, get our kids vaccinated and keep them in the building.” 

    Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said her elementary-aged daughter has already used the rapid tests, and she wants to make sure they’re widely available to other Minnesota students.

    “I think families have come to trust their schools and their school health offices, so knowing that your school nurse is saying, ‘You can use this, this is OK, I’m here as a resource if you need help.’ I think for families, that means something to them,” Flanagan said. 

    Hundreds of Minnesota districts have already requested the tests as well as grant funding to help with the logistics of regular testing. But others have not yet ordered any. 

    Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the rapid antigen tests do give results within 15 minutes, but are less accurate than PCR tests. 

    “It’s really good as ... a really quick assessment of a child with symptoms,” Malcolm said. “We need parents to use the tests appropriately. If you’ve got a positive, we do advise getting a confirming test with PCR to make sure it’s really a positive.” 

      To see the original report and read related stories, follow this link to the MPR News website.
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