NC Dept. HHS steps in to bring rapid COVID-19 testing to NC schools

Every day the Macon County School System sends out an alert about COVID-19 cases in its schools.

Just yesterday, Highlands School reported 2 cases, Franklin High School reported 2 cases, Macon Middle School reported 1 case, and South Macon Elementary School reported 1 case.

Last week on Monday; Mountain View Intermediate School reported one case, Cartoogechaye Elementary School reported one case, Franklin High School reported three cases, Iotla Valley Elementary School reported one case and Macon Middle School reported two cases.

The following day, MCSS was notified that a positive case of COVID-19 has been confirmed within Macon County Schools Support Staff.

Statistics from Macon County School’s COVID-19 Dashboard as of Dec. 15.

These individuals are currently under quarantine. Contact tracing is underway through the Macon County Health Department. Any student or staff member identified through the contact tracing will be notified. Macon County Schools will continue to work closely with the Macon County Health Department as we monitor this situation.

In addition, Macon Middle School suspended face-to-face instruction Dec. 9-11.

The suspension of instruction is due to the loss of staff to quarantine and COVID-19 related symptoms. Macon Middle School and the Macon County School System will continue to work closely with the Macon County Health Department to reevaluate the circumstances over the weekend. 

Since school started Aug. 17 there have been six cases reported at Highlands School. 

The Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation tests students who are signed up for the program every Thursday. It also backs testing at Blue Ridge and Summit Charter in Cashiers.

Results for those tests take a few days to come in. Parents of children who test positive are notified immediately. Not all parents opted to register their children in the program, which means many go untested week after week.

Now the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is launching a pilot program to deploy COVID-19 testing in K-12 public schools to quickly identify students and staff who may have the virus to help slow its spread. 

Local education agencies including public school districts, charter school networks or individual charter schools currently offering any in-person instruction — either Plan A or Plan B — are eligible to apply.

Selected pilot sites will receive federally funded rapid antigen tests to be used for students and staff with COVID-19 symptoms or who are close contacts of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. 

“Having rapid tests available in our schools in another important tool to both slow the spread of the virus and keep our children in the classroom. With increased community spread, these tests add to the other safety protocols in place at K-12 schools to protect our students, teachers and staff,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D.

To apply for the program, local education agencies must submit a readiness checklist for each participating school to their local health department. The checklist confirms that a school can meet the program’s requirements, including obtaining parental/guardian consent prior to testing, maintaining adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, having trained personnel to administer tests or partnering with a local health provider, and reporting test results to state and local public health agencies. Following review of the readiness checklists, the local health department then submits the application to NCDHHS on behalf of the local education agency.

Pilot applications are due Dec. 8, 2020. NCDHHS will select pilot sites based on the pool of eligible applicants. NCDHHS will deliver the rapid tests to pilot sites at no cost to the sites as soon as Dec. 14, 2020.

The pilot will use the Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen test card, which uses a nasal swab to detect COVID-19 and provides results in 15 minutes without laboratory processing. The swab must be performed by trained personnel.

Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin said he has spoken to Director Macon County Health Department Kathy McGaha about applying for this opportunity.  

“She is looking into exactly what is involved,” he said.

More information on the COVID-19 testing pilot for K-12 Schools is available HERE.

Pictured at the top of the article is Highlands School, one of 11 schools in Macon County to receive COVID-19 testing through NC Health and Human Services.

By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

Leave a Reply