Treasure Coast, South Florida school districts split over using rapid coronavirus tests

Palm Beach County has begun rapid testing; Martin, Okeechobee counties not participating
Posted at 7:40 AM, Dec 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-10 08:15:15-05

The School District of Palm Beach County began its full rollout of rapid COVID-19 testing on school campuses this week.

At Wednesday's school board meeting, Dr. Belma Andric, the chief medical officer for the Health Care District of Palm Beach County, updated school board members on the progress so far.

Andric said rapid antigen testing began the first day of school after Thanksgiving break. However, not all schools had the tests yet. Now, all schools have rapid antigen test kits.

In the last two weeks, she said, they tested 82 students with two tests coming back positive, and 32 teachers, with four positive for COVID-19.

She also said since they started COVID-19 screenings in school health rooms on Sept. 11, 17,000 students with symptoms were screened, about 8,000 kids were sent home for recommended testing and about 10% of those sent home for recommended testing were positive for COVID-19.

"Now we will be able to test those kids before we send them out," she said. "Our goal is that we identify people early in the infection while they can transmit illness to others. We are not here to diagnose COVID. We are, kind of, in essence, if you wish, trying to diagnose infectability or transmitability or contagiousness of the student and isolate them quickly so they cannot spread the illness to others."

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She said the rapid antigen test has high accuracy during the first seven days of infection. If it's negative, the student likely cannot transmit illness to others, according to Andric. However, a PCR test may still come back positive.

"From our perspective, if the student has negative rapid antigen test in the health room, there's high confidence we know that student cannot transmit illness to others," Andric said.

Regardless of the test result, students are still sent home and recommended to visit their primary care doctor to determine next steps and whether a PCR test is necessary.

Parents must provide consent before the test is performed, and need to be present for the test for younger students.

WPTV contacted the other area school districts to see if they plan to roll out a similar testing program.

Martin County said it has declined to participate.

"After consultation with DOH Martin and in looking at our capacity and requirements for test administration, the Martin County School District has elected not to participate in this program," a representative said.

The tests that were provided to Martin County were returned to the Department of Emergency Management for redistribution to the community.

Okeechobee County schools also will not administer rapid tests on campus. Assistant Superintendent Dylan Tedders said the district passed along the tests it received to the Department of Health for students and staff who are referred for testing.

St. Lucie County schools do plan to use rapid testing on campus as early as next week. A represenative said the school district received 880 rapid COVID-19 tests from the state.

"We are working in partnership with the Florida Department of Health in St. Lucie to deploy these tests," a statement said. "All Department of Health nurses that provide services to our schools, as well as district nursing staff from the Student Services Department, have access to the tests. If a student at a school presents with symptoms, a nurse from the Department of Health or the school district will be dispatched to the school to administer the test."

Tests will only be given if the parent gives consent and is present for the test. The rollout is slated for Monday.

Indian River County school representatives have not yet replied.