News – PH – Can mass self-tests for covid-19 ensure school safety?


On a continent that is still struggling with high Covid-19 rates, a small Alpine country is trying something new to reopen its schools: students have to test themselves twice a week before they can attend classes

The experiment could learn valuable lessons for the USwhere many schools remain closed, mainly because despite months of restrictions, it happens in a place with relatively high infection rates

The US. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week urged elementary and secondary schools to reopen in a debate between parents, teachers and local governments about how to deal with the pandemic

In Europe, where some countries are reopening schools after the winter shutdown, more and more governments are pushing for tests in schools to offset the growing urgency to bring children back into the classroom with fears about the new highly infectious virus variants. p>

Austria, which this month reopened schools after almost three months, goes further than any other European country

Twice a week the 11 million school children now use non-invasive antigen tests that detect infections by looking for viral proteins

Children collect their samples by twisting a swab in their nose before inserting it into a cartridge, dropping a few drops of liquid on it and waiting 15 minutes for the result. The Austrian government has so far had 24 million such tests on one Chinese manufacturer ordered for 2 euros40, equivalent to 2 US dollars90, per piece Children whose parents refuse the test must continue their distance learning

Eight-year-old Dylan Moriarty, who goes to school in Salzburg, western Austria, said the test was easy and even “a little cool”

His mother, Michele Moriarty, an orthodontist, said: “We like to do anything that enables children to go to school”

Epidemiologists and health officials say that while schools are not hotspots for Covid-19, they do play a role in the spread of infection, many also say that strict safety protocols can help reduce the spread

European governments have made reopening schools a priority, but the slow roll-out of vaccines across the continent and the spread of highly infectious variants of coronavirus mean significant risks

Similar to the US.The security measures in European schools varied greatly, including increased hand washing, staggered arrival and break times, separate classes and compulsory wearing of masks – sometimes only in hallways, sometimes everywhere In many countries, teachers have pushed for stricter measures, including more virus testing

In Germany, some states are also planning to test staff and students regularly when they reopen schools for the youngest students later this month. Teachers and students in Berlin can be tested twice a week in other countries like Belgium and the Czech Republic observe the Austrian experiment closely

, according to the Austrian Ministry of Education

France, which opened its schools in the fall and winter during a surge, plans to post at least 200 after the February break000 weekly saliva PCR tests in schools, Prime Minister Jean Castex said earlier this month The voluntary tests do not provide instant results, but are more accurate than antigen tests

Antigen tests have often been criticized for their lower sensitivity compared to laboratory PCR tests, which are very accurate but take more time to get a result, but researchers say there is increasing evidence that antigen testing is frequent can help identify the most infectious cases and contain contamination in large groups

Two recent reports commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation found that weekly antigen testing of students and staff at K-12 schools could reduce infections in schools by 50%, but warned of the logistical, regulatory and financial hurdles of theirs Implementation Less frequent screening or just testing of employees would, according to reports, bring only limited added value

There are still many question marks about how well such tests work with self-administration and how accurate they are in people who are infected but have no symptoms, the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety noted that their sensitivity – how accurate a test is to identify cases and avoid false negative results – decreased from more than 93% in Covid-19 patients with severe symptoms to 407% for asymptomatic carriers

“They don’t hurt and no one is afraid to use them,” said Michael Wagner, a microbiologist at the University of Vienna who oversees an ongoing survey of infections in Austrian schools. But he said the tests are also less accurate are when applied to apparently healthy children who are precisely “the ones being tested since only healthy children are currently in school”

Jilian Sacks of the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, a non-profit organization based in Geneva that evaluates the performance of Covid-19 antigen tests, said that while the performance appears lower in asymptomatic people, the tests appear to be lower in identification of people with high values ​​are still fairly accurate, viral loads, which are particularly contagious regardless of the presence of symptoms

Previous research on self-conducted testing also shows that users can collect their own sample with relative accuracy if the instructions are clear, she added,

By 1Last week, 3 million tests were positive across Austria, 364 children and 172 teachers were positive Officials said the low rate could be because the children emerged from a month-long lockdown, but some scientists considered the possibility that children might not have samples Gathered correctly Scientists say Austria’s school survey, which will resume next month and use PCR tests on gargle samples, should provide more clarity

Health officials warn parents and students that negative tests should not lull them into a false sense of security, as they only provide a snapshot of a person’s infectivity on a given day. You should continue to adhere to other safety measures, such as: B. Wearing Masks and Distancing In Austria, classes of older children work in a shift system to reduce the risk of infection, and children 14 and over must wear FFP2 masks, which are well known in the US under the designation N95

So far, parents and teachers have accepted the test offer According to the Ministry of Education, only 1% to 2% reject their children’s participation. Teachers also feel safer at work, said Thomas Bulant, a teacher representative in Vienna

Horst Pintarich, headmaster of a large primary school in Vienna, said he had decided not to worry too much about how accurate the tests are, “It’s still better than not having tests because it’s clear that we need to get kids back into class “

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Coronavirus, polymerase chain reaction

News – PH – Can mass self-tests for Covid-19 ensure the safety of schools?