Dr. Michelle Zimmerman, Head of School at Renton Prep (a WFIS member) was interviewed by Komo News about the IDM report for the story below.
Zimmerman clarified to WFIS, “All of the modeling is matching what we are seeing in action with the countermeasures we have. I was pretty excited about that.” Citing the data-graph on page 7 of the IDM Report shown to the right, she noted “They took a lot out and didn’t include that the rapid tests are being withheld even though the documents said the tests are broadly available.”
Earlier this week, WFIS came to the same confused conclusion regarding Washington State’s limited access to the rapid antigen tests. On September 30th a WA State DOH press release announced that “within the next five to ten days the Washington State Department of Health will receive and distribute the first batch of Abbott BinaxNOW antigen test kits for COVID-19 from the federal government“. The release went on the clarify that “the first batch will include 149,000 kits, and the state anticipates receiving nearly 2.3 million total tests between now and December.” During the weekly CAPE Zoom this week, WFIS and other State CAPE leaders learned that Texas already has access to enough rapid antigen tests so that public and private school teachers, staff and students can use one every week. Where can WA schools gain access to these test kits?
Public health authorities have released a new report that looks at diagnostic screenings in King County and whether they will make it safer to re-open schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The report, by the Institute of Disease Modeling, indicates that screenings could help reduce the risk associated with reopening schools. But, the value of the tests really depends on the current level of transmission in schools and the surrounding community. The new report looks at two types of diagnostic screenings – polymerise chain reaction (PCR) tests and rapid antigen-based tests. For PCR tests, it takes a day or more to for results to be returned. For rapid tests, results can be ready in 15 minutes.
“As screening approaches first day of learning, you can see the benefit grows,” said Dr. Dan Klein, senior research manager with the Institute for Disease Modeling.
The new report also looks at:
- Testing students once before the first day of in-person learning
- Testing on a regular basis, whether daily and weekly
“These latest results indicate that the benefits of routine diagnostic testing will be limited if COVID-19 prevalence is low and if school-based countermeasures can be fully implemented,” said Klein. “Of course, diagnostic testing remains valuable for disease detection and response, and for assessing school community prevalence.”
Authorities say diagnostic testing plays a just small role in making sure schools are safe to reopen. They say reducing the risk of COVID-19 in schools really comes down to a number of factors:
- School-based countermeasures – like wearing a face mask, daily symptom screening, social distancing, follow up diagnostic testing, contact tracing, and improved ventilation
- Hybrid schedules – where students only attend school in-person on certain days
- A phased reopening that brings back the youngest students first
According to public health authorities, the modeling does indicate it is possible to continue in-person learning for some students – especially younger students – while keeping the risk of transmission in schools low. But again, that’s only if there are strong health and safety measures in place.
“Those things are encouraging,’ said Michelle Zimmerman, director of Renton Prep Christian School in King County. She said Renton Prep is a model of safe in-school learning and that the countermeasures have worked to keep her teachers and her 140 students COVID-free. The majority of them have been back in the classroom since August and they have been following the guidelines of health authorities, including socially distancing, holding classes outdoors at times, wearing masks, etc. “Those testings and countermeasures will make a difference when schools are ready to return. There are a lot of complexities and challenges,” said Zimmerman.
The new IDM report also shows that the level of community transmission plays a big role in whether it’s safe for students to go back into the classroom. Public health authorities say schools should not return to full in-person learning in places where there are higher cases of COVID-19. An anticipated surge of cases this winter worries public health authorities. And in many school districts like Seattle Public Schools, students will not be returning to the classroom until after January.
Zimmerman said her school has already made plans to transition to full remote learning later in November.