WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — In a matter of weeks, Palm Beach County students will be able to be tested for COVID-19 before they even leave their school campus.
The School District of Palm Beach County is rolling out rapid antigen testing for COVID-19 after Thanksgiving break. An exact launch date has not been announced.
The district will use the BinaxNOW test that produces results within 15 minutes. The state has provided the tests.
"I think it will allow us, families and staff, to have a little more comfort," Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy said.
Only trained school nurses will administer the tests to students or staff members who are symptomatic.
"It's not going to fix the situation, but it's a step in the right direction," Fennoy said. "We said from the beginning, once we bring kids back, normal school things happen, and kids bring sniffles and coughs and those things, and now we need to know what it is. So with the state providing this antigen testing, it will allow us one step closer to being clear as to who is in our buildings and how we handle it and having accurate information."
The test will be given with a two-step consent process.
Parents will need to sign and return a permission slip to allow their child to get tested. If the child goes to the nurse with symptoms, there's another layer of consent before a test is administered.
The parent will receive a phone call and, if the child is in second grade or younger, the parent must be present for the test to be given. If the child is in grades 3-12, the parent can be present or give verbal permission over the phone. Regardless of a positive or negative result from the rapid test, the child will be sent home and may be referred for follow-up testing.
"In a lot of cases, there's some families that may not have the insurance or the means, so this would be one way that we can give them some information," Fennoy said.
As of Friday morning, the school district's COVID-19 dashboard showed 547 total cases.
"Well, it's concerning but, again, spread out over 200 schools, obviously, there are some schools that have more than others, but I think, in general, we're doing a good job of keeping all of our social distancing protocols," Fennoy said.
Fennoy said he's prepared to move the entire district to distance learning if it becomes necessary.
"Almost all of the cases that we see are not happening on campus," Fennoy said. "These are community events or people hanging out on the weekend. A lot of kids are getting it from their parents, so I think a lot of it depends on the community. Right now, with the tremendous uptick, even just small gatherings, honestly, after Thanksgiving, we are worried. I think a lot of the uptick now is post-Halloween. It's just those realities. I know personal cases where it may have been just three kids hanging out and now they are all sick."
The superintendent added that now is not that time to let up on following guidelines, and students need to continue to stay home if they are sick.
"I think people are tired and fatigued from the COVID experience, so my message to families would be to still be diligent. Do not let up," Fennoy said. "It's not over."
Fennoy said any shuffling in the schools would be done mostly on the staff side.
"So we've been lucky right now that we haven't had so many adults out that we haven't been able to accommodate," Fennoy said. "We've actually moved employees around from different schools to help because families are choosing to come. If it gets to a point where I don't have enough teachers and staff to safely, you know, for my children to go to school, then we're going to have to pivot."
The tests are only for students enrolled in in-person instruction. The state has provided Palm Beach County with about 9,000 tests that will be distributed among all district-operated and non-district operated schools, with more tests on the way.
To learn more about the school district's plan for testing, including a copy of the consent form and a list of frequently asked questions, click here.