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Lee schools begin ‘rapid testing’ for COVID

By MEGHAN BRADBURY / news@breezenewspapers.com - | Nov 20, 2020

Rapid testing for COVID-19 is now available in Lee County schools with three tests already administered as of Nov. 18.

Testing for symptomatic students and staff is available on campuses through a partnership that includes the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, Lee Health, Lee County and the Florida Department of Health, Lee County.

Parental permission is required for student testing with results available in 15 minutes, officials said.

“To the parents out there I want to say you are in control, you get the final say of whether your child is going to be tested,” Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman said. “The idea is if we can identify kids that are positive with this quicker (test) and help them get out of the classroom quicker and maybe find out who they have come into contact with that day quicker, we can stop this thing spreading to even more people.”

The testing process will begin when a student or staff member with possible symptoms is sent to the school isolation room. Those symptoms will be evaluated by the nurse who will run through a medical screening symptoms list to see if a test is warranted.

High-risk symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, or new loss of taste, or smell. Clinic staff will also look for two or more low-risk symptoms, which include fever/chills/rigor, headache, myalgias, sore throat, runny nose and nausea/vomiting/diarrhea.

If a test is deemed warranted, parents will be contacted and the test will be offered with permission and a signed waiver required. The parent will be with the child at all times while the test is administered.

Parents will be provided with test results.

If the rapid test comes back positive, the student will be sent home for self-isolation and results will be shared with the Florida Department of Health, as they will be in contact with the family to begin the contact tracing process.

If the test reads negative, the family will be instructed to call their child’s physician.

Meanwhile, the symptomatic student or staff member will be sent home for 10 days; they have to be symptom free for 24 hours without medication before returning to school. They also may obtain a physician’s note clearing them to return earlier.

“Rapid tests are not as accurate as the PCR test, so any symptomatic individual with a negative rapid result will not be allowed to return to class and should follow up with a PCR test or a visit to their physician,” District Chief of Staff Lauren Stillwell said.

The federal government, through Health and Human Services, procured more than a million rapid COVID-19 tests, which were set aside for long-term care facilities, nursing homes and schools. Florida received 6.4 million tests kits with the Lee County School District receiving 2,000 tests, each equipped with everything needed to conduct a COVID-19 rapid test.

The Lee County Commission approved on Nov. 17 the use of CARES Act dollars to fund the labor and travel for the Golisano Children’s Hospital team to the school sites. The Lee County School Board then entered into an agreement with Lee Health to begin the testing to be performed through the hospital, which has allocated 15 staffers to the task.

“In order for the district to conduct tests at the school sites, we needed a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment, which is being provided by Lee Health,” Schools Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins said.

Beth Wipf, nursing services coordinator for the school district, said they had administered three tests as of the morning of Nov. 18.

“All these efforts are put into place so we are able to identify the positive students sooner and our Department of Health is able to start the contact tracing, so we can hopefully reduce the amount of exposures in our school setting,” Wipf said.

Lee Health President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Lawrence Antonucci said the program will make great strides by being able to test children early, so then “we can get them isolated and slow down the spread of this virus. This virus is still here and the only tools that we have are the tools that we have been talking about for the past many, many months … social distancing, masking and frequent hand washing.”

Antonucci thanked Dr. Alyssa Bostwick and Dr. Stephanie Stovall from the children’s hospital as they set up the protocols and procedures to make it work.

“The FDA set the parameters and it was a matter of making sure we follow those parameters for the safety of everyone involved,” Antonucci said. “It’s a great day for the children of Lee County and it really shows what being true partners can be and what the power of community really means when people come together to solve a problem.”

Jennifer Ross, with the Florida Department of Health, Lee County, said there are 50 people dedicated to COVID response, including approximately 20 contact investigators — individuals who make phone calls to the contacts to alert them — as well as others who make and receive calls from those who have questions and data entry.

“If there are not enough people in house that one day, we can send those cases to Healthy Together and they can also do the contact tracing externally. There is an app that will be coming out in the next week or so if people test positive they can do their contact tracing via app,” Ross said. “We use them (Healthy Together) on a regular basis. We try to get to most of our cases every single day. We do a pretty good job.”

She said for those who are getting tested to make sure they give their most recent up-to-date contact information.

Adkins said, fortunately, they have seen limited transmission in the schools. He said from the data the district is collecting is coming from gatherings outside of school.

“That is where we see the most rapid spread of this. If we can reduce that I think we can see more kids in our schools because that is where education works the best, face-to-face,” Adkins said.

Wipf said they are not seeing connections with students and staff with positive cases and with those who are quarantined

If a student or staff member is exposed to COVID-19, they are quarantined for 14 days and, for those who have symptoms or test positive, it is 10-day quarantine.

Students that have missed school because of quarantine have been able to continue their educations virtually.

“Our hope is when we identify our positive cases and contact tracing begins, those that are exposed are identified sooner and those that do not need to be quarantined are not quarantined unnecessarily,” Wipf said.

Adkins said with upcoming holiday break they know families are looking forward to celebrating.

“We urge you to take the advice of our health care professionals to keep you and your families healthy and safe,” he said.

Ross said the only way to get COVID is if an individual is less than 6 feet from someone for more than 15 minutes.

“That is our definition of exposure. If you maintain 6 feet from everyone you have your own personal bubble. If you are not able to maintain social distancing in your every day life, just make sure you are reducing your bubble as much as you can. That is why we say if you cannot maintain social distancing in the workplace, maybe don’t have extended holidays with grandma or at-risk people,” she said.

The Department of Health advises people to stay within their household, with the people they see every day, through the holiday season and to use technology to converse with others.