Public schools prepare to use thousands of rapid antigen tests to detect coronavirus in risky areas

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Public schools' superintendents in South Florida are preparing to put to use thousands of rapid antigen tests for coronavirus screenings in high-risk congregate settings.

There aren’t enough tests to go around, so Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie and Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho need to be selective about allocation.

A little more than 37,000 students are back in Broward classrooms, but the district has only received about 5,700 rapid tests. In Miami-Dade, there are about 150,000 students back at schoolhouses and only about 7,200 tests.

“We are working on using them in certain situations in schools where maintaining physical distance may be a challenge especially in some of our behavior centers," Runcie said.

The tests in conjunction with prevention measures can help school administrators to prevent outbreaks. The coronavirus cases at public schools in South Florida have continued to increase since schoolhouses reopened earlier this month.

According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, there are two types of tests to detect the coronavirus. There are molecular tests, such as the RT-PCR tests, that detect the virus’s genetic material. There are also antigen tests, such as the Abbott rapid tests, that detect proteins on the surface of the coronavirus.

Epidemiologists with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that the rapid antigen test be used as part of a surveillance strategy “to gain information at a population level, rather than an individual level.”

Runcie said the RT-PCR test is more accurate and it’s also available to investigate outbreaks in schools. According to Nadine Drew, a spokeswoman for Broward County public schools, the Florida Department of Health-Broward is administering the RT-PCR test at 10 sites with a turnaround time of 24-48 hours from specimen collection.

“Public Health experts have informed the district that rapid test kits, which were provided through the state’s Office of Emergency Management, do not negate the need for full testing at a state site or a private health care provider,” Drew said in a statement.

Carvalho said the rapid tests only require “a gentle swabbing around the edge of the nose” and in the district, the person who will be performing the test will have to watch a 10-minute video to get certified to administer it.

Both districts are working with the Florida Department of Health. The measures the school districts take can help to identify silent carriers who are capable of infecting people in the community who are vulnerable to the deadly effects of COVID-19.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense has been providing rapid tests to communities across the country.

The FDOH-B priority sites administer the PCR Test, which is considered the optimal test for COVID-19.  Priority testing should not be considered rapid testing sites.

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