Additional COVID Testing at DC Schools

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Brent students are greeted by the Brent bear as they enter the school. File.

DC is preparing to add more COVID testing at District public schools, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday, Jan. 10.

The city will distribute rapid COVID antigen tests to all public school students in prek and kindergarten classes by this Friday. Students are to bring the tests home for the weekend so they can test prior to a return on Monday. Staff who are in contact with this population will also receive one test per week, State Superintendent of Education Christine Grant said. This program is intended to continue through the latest surge in cases, the superintendent added.

Asked why these grade levels were targeted, Bowser said it was because the youngest students were not eligible for vaccination.

Schools will receive rapid antigen tests for all students prior to a scheduled break of a week or more during the surge in cases, Grant added, such as the February and March spring break. Similar to the Pre- and Kindergarten testing, students will bring home test kits on the last day of school prior to the break and be expected to return a negative test result in order to return to school.

Given that tests will be sent home with students or parents at student pick-up, schools will not be closed to stand up the testing program, as they were after the 2021 winter break. Otherwise, the program will look similar. Schools will issue guidance as to when to test and where to upload results. “We learned a lot from what we did last week,” Grant said.

Families who miss significant amounts of school for their own reasons should take advantage of the other COVID testing programs throughout the District, Grant said.

Rapid antigen tests. File.

Planning is underway for a Test-to-Stay program. That program applies to unvaccinated students who are identified as close contacts of a known COVID case. Students take a series of COVID tests during their isolation period; if they return negative, the student can return to in-person learning.

A launch date for test-to-stay has not yet been announced as the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) works through guidelines and logistics, but Grant said information will be released in the coming weeks.

“I want to be crystal clear that it is critically important for families and students who have access to the vaccine to take the vaccine,” Grant said. “That is the critical way to ensure students can remain in school.”

Bowser reiterated this, noting test-to-stay is only applicable to unvaccinated students. “If they’re vaccinated, test-to-stay doesn’t even come into play,” she said. “So it’s so, so important that parents are making the choice to get their kids fully vaccinated, because that is one way they can contribute to not having disruptions to their children’s learning experience.”

Schools will continue with asymptomatic testing at 20 percent; schools now have the ability to test up to 30 percent,  Grant said.

On Friday night, DC reported 6,728 self-reported positives from all historically-reported over the counter tests. More than 2,800 of them come from the schools this week. Another 1,928 positive tests came from labs. DC Health said these would be reported separately in the future.

Over-the-counter (rapid antigen test) results are not included as part of the daily case rates but are rather reported as ‘presumptive’ cases, said DC Health Senior Deputy Director Patrick Ashley. Rapid tests are considered as a separate data set from lab results, but each is de-duplicated as much as possible.

That has to do with data integrity, Ashley said, since DC Health has no way of validating data that is self-submitted; they can’t even be sure results are reported under an individual’s real name.

That said, a positive result does not require confirmation via a PCR test, Ashley said. It’s about the best use of the number of tests that are out there. “That’s just taking up another resource that isn’t necessary. You should treat that as positive and go home and isolate.”