Rapid COVID-19 tests are being delivered to SC schools

Updated: Dec. 1, 2020 at 8:03 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A test is coming to South Carolina schools that many students and teachers might be excited to take.

It’s a rapid COVID-19 antigen test that can produce results in 15 minutes.

According to South Carolina Department of Education Chief Communications Officer Ryan Brown, more than 200,000 Abbott BinaxNOW tests are scheduled to be put in schools in a matter of days.

“It’s possible that some districts will be ready to go as soon as one day this week, but I think it’s more likely that we will see districts begin this week or the week after once they have protocols and training in place,” he said.

Officials with Richland One and Richland Two told WIS they are working on their plans to test their students and staff now. Specifically, they are working on figuring out a range of logistics like disposal of used tests, training for nurses, and consent forms for parents to sign to allow their children to be tested.

Governor Henry McMaster (R-SC) announced his executive order to have DHEC distribute some of the more than 1.5 million tests provided to them by the federal government to schools before Thanksgiving. Most of the millions of tests are going to nursing homes around the state, according to DHEC.

For schools, Brown is hopeful these tests become one more step towards a semblance of normalcy.

“Particularly for staff, it will be a very useful tool. If a student goes home, it doesn’t necessarily impact the entire school environment. But if you have a large number of staff members who are out quarantining or out because they are positive, it can shut down a school or drastically change the school’s operations,” he said.

Brown did warn this test is meant for people who are displaying COVID-19 symptoms and isn’t meant to be a screening tool.

“Any of the symptoms associated with COVID-19 even the flu or similar illnesses, if a student or staff member is exhibiting those symptoms that is who will be offered one of the test kits,” he explained.

South Carolina Education Association President Sherry East is concerned people will use a negative test result as a free pass to ignore CDC guidelines, but she is cautiously optimistic this could help combat teacher shortages.

“We are hearing from the field and from our educators [that] they are being put out and losing sick days and sick time that they may not actually have while they are waiting for a test and they feel fine,” East said. “They are like, ‘Let me work from home,’ and they can’t because they have students in class. So, they have to find a substitute, which they can’t because we are having a substitute shortage.”

East was also worried about what the less than 80 schools without full-time nurses will do with these tests.

Brown explained athletic trainers will also be authorized and trained to give these tests. He also said in addition to working to hire more nurses, the Dept. of Education is working with pharmacies and other businesses close to those schools to serve as testing sites.

“There has been some additional funding that has been provided to school districts to hire additional nursing staff and contract with nursing services...nurses are in very high demand right now,” Brown said.

The Abbott BinaxNOW testing kits are about the size of a credit card. To get a sample, the test administrator takes a shallow nasal swab of the symptomatic patient and places it in the card-like kit. After adding a reagent to the kit and waiting 15 minutes, the tester can then read the results like how one would read a pregnancy test.

According to DHEC, which is working on the distribution of the kits, each school will initially be given a set number of tests based on 10% of its staff and student population. Therefore, a school with 1,100 students and staff will be given 110 tests, but have the chance to request more if they need it.

“This is not mandatory for anyone; school districts can opt into it and individual charter schools can opt-in as well. It’s available to everyone, there is no requirement that the participant and, of course, there is no requirement that anyone staff or students take these test kits,” Brown said.

He also explained that some school districts may opt not to administer these tests because of concerns surrounding liability or that they would overwhelm their staff with an extra responsibility.

For more information on the tests and to read DHEC’s FAQ, visit this link.

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