USD 373 working on COVID-19 testing expansion

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Expanded COVID-19 testing will be coming to Newton USD 373.

Newton Unified School District 373 is pursing a way to provide COVID-19 testing to staff and students as the second semester of the 2020-21 school year begins. 

"It will be free of charge through the end of the school year," said Superintendent Fred Van Rankin.

The school district had relied on testing by Well Health, which was initially offered to the community in the Newton High School parking lot before moving to the Chisholm Trail Mall, for testing in December. However, turnaround time was an issue for district employees. 

The school district chose to go with to another source. 

The district is working with the Wichita State Molecular lab to begin offering tests to staff — with the possibility of a 24-hour turnaround time for results. 

"We are going to get the voluntary saliva-based PCR surveillance — non-symptomatic—  testing through WSU going within the next couple of weeks," Van Rankin said. "This will be voluntary, surveillance testing, meaning you do not have to be symptomatic in order to participate. It is also a PCR test that will have a fast turnaround."

There will be no cost to the district for testing. 

In the most recent gating report issued Dec. 8, there were 31 active cases in the district, including 16 students and 15 staff. That was an increase of seven cases overall before the winter break began Dec. 17, when the district recorded 24 active cases, including 17 students and seven staff.

Staff quarantines are on the rise during the same period, with 38 quarantined on Jan. 8 compared to 27 on Dec. 17.

Student quarantine numbers decreased — from 148 in December to 128 on Jan. 8.

This week, Van Rankin reported there was spread of COVID-19 within one school building before talking about providing testing to staff and students. 

Student testing could also be provided to students who begin to exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 at school, with parental consent. Students would undergo a rapid test, a test that will also be available to staff if they wish to undergo it. 

Symptomatic individuals would need to follow up with a PCR test if the rapid test comes back negative. 

"We are also going to do [antigen] rapid testing onsite, as well, for those that are symptomatic that want that option," Van Rankin said. "This is a nasal swab and an antigen test, meaning if you are negative, the only way to avoid quarantine/isolation as a symptomatic individual is through validation with a PCR test. If you are positive, you follow quarantine protocol."

Antigen tests will be administered with the assistance of the Harvey County Health Department, rather than the Wichita State lab, to allow for a quicker result. 

"We hope to have this available within the next couple of weeks. Specifics will be out soon," Van Rankin said.