USD 373 seeks COVID-19 testing for staff

Chad Frey
Newton USD 373 is planning to start COVID-19 testing for teachers and staff shortly.

It’s not quite in place yet, but Newton USD 373 is planning to start COVID-19 testing for teachers and staff shortly.

“I hope to have this fully in place prior to the Christmas break,” said superintendent Fred Van Rankin.

Accessing expanded CARES Act funding, the district is working toward a partnership with the Wichita State University molecular lab to begin testing teachers and staff on a regular basis.

That could mean, on a voluntary basis, teachers getting tested weekly. Van Rankin said testing could expand to students as well.

“The plan is to start with staff who want to be tested — weekly at least, perhaps more often — to see how our processes work, and go from there to expand to certain student populations,” Van Rankin said.

The district will be utilizing a saliva-based PCR test with a 24 -hour turnaround time. According to the Federal Drug Administration, a diagnostic test can show if someone has an active coronavirus infection and should take steps to quarantine or isolate themselves from others. Currently there are two types of diagnostic tests — molecular tests, such as RT-PCR tests, that detect the virus’s genetic material, and antigen tests that detect specific proteins from the virus.

Because of CARES Act funding, testing would not be paid through local tax funds.

“This is free to schools, which is the only way we can engage in a large-scale testing venture,” Van Rankin said. “The only way to blunt the spread in addition to the mitigation efforts of social distancing, handwashing and mask wearing will be to test, trace and isolate. This, like all other efforts, does not stop all spread, but it will allow us to have a better handle on who is carrying the virus and potentially stop that node.”

The FDA website states that molecular tests are “typically highly accurate” and can diagnose active COVID-19 infections.

Van Rankin said it will take time to get the process of testing right for the district and time to roll out the program in schools.

“This, like every other process we have engaged in, will take iteration after iteration before we get into a flow,” Van Rankin said. “It will not be perfect, ever, but will get better over time. At this point it does not allow you to avoid quarantine length but perhaps soon, with repeated negatives, we could look to reduce the length of isolation.”