This school year, there were Coronavirus outbreaks at several schools. however, the rate of transmission was generally the same or lower in communities that had measures in place to minimize disease spread. Today, however, many school districts are being pressed to remove practices such as masking or testing. Although cases of COVID-19 with the delta variant doubled nationwide, this is despite a surge in outbreaks. Testing in schools will become even more important with the delta variant. In an ideal world, all students would be tested daily with free tests. If someone was infected, that test would detect it instantly and with 100 percent accuracy. But there are no such tests. Plus, schools don’t have unlimited funds or the ability to create perfect protocols. Instead, districts will have to weigh the pros and cons of different Coronavirus tests. There will have to be a balance between how often they test and who they test. Below is a look at the type of tests that schools use, along with their benefits and challenges.
A new test was introduced at a school in America. Each week, thousands of students (with parental consent) swabbed their noses at home. A plastic baggie was used to store the swab, which they then brought to school. A nearby lab received swabs, which were mixed into 16 groups and shipped there. In the lab, technicians combined the samples from these swabs and performed PCR tests.
A PCR reaction is a polymerase chain reaction (PUL-im-er-ace). Genetic material can be detected in samples by these tests. A coronavirus is being looked for here. These tests are the gold standard for diagnostic tests. A PCR test will almost never reveal the presence of the Coronavirus in an uninfected individual. That would be what’s known as a false positive. But PCR tests can miss real infections. Ten to twenty percent of the time, it misses them. Nevertheless, it’s the most accurate test currently available. Tests that are less accurate are less expensive than tests that use PCR. Additionally, it takes longer to run. A cost-saving measure is combining individual samples into pools. The pooled test doesn’t need to be repeated if it’s negative. This can save a lot of money.
To make pooled testing work, students must buy-in. The peak participation rate in these schools averaged about 60 percent. Whenever a student tested positive, school nurses would scramble to contact the child. The kids were told to isolate themselves and identify everyone they had recently interacted with. Those contacts would then be notified about the possible exposure by the nurses. Contact tracing is a method of identifying contacts.
It does, however, have some drawbacks. PCR-testing labs are not readily available in all schools. In addition, the results take a few days to appear. Then we have to trace the contacts, which is even more time-consuming. As a result, the virus can spread easily among infected students. In the case of the delta variant, this may prove particularly troubling. As soon as they become infected, they are much more likely to spread it.
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