COVID-19 Q&A: Testing and Idaho schools

Q: I have heard there are testing programs for teachers and staff in Idaho schools. What are they?

There are a couple of different things happening on the testing front for schools.

The Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee, or CFAC, approved funding for the Department of Health and Welfare(DHW) to help expedite COVID-19 testing for teachers and school staff, specifically for those without insurance or if their insurance will not pay for the testing.

DHW is working very closely with Idaho’s local public health districts on subgrants to assist with agreements with testing entities, contact tracing, outbreaks in the school setting. One of the subgrant activities is for the local public health districts to implement agreements with testing facilities in their area. This helps to prioritize testing for teachers and school staff.

There are also funds in these subgrants to reimburse the testing facilities the PHDs have agreements with for the uninsured or underinsured teachers and school staff. DHW is also working on agreements with pharmacies, labs, and businesses to prioritize testing for teachers and school staff.

The agreements we’re implementing are for PCR tests (the gold standard for testing) that can be self-administered by teachers and school staff. The tests can be done at home and include a prepaid overnight shipping envelope to send to the contacted laboratories.

Q: What about the test Gov. Brad Little spoke about at his last press conference (Oct. 1)?

You may have heard about the rapid-antigen tests Idaho is receiving from the federal government. These are the BinaxNOW tests that all states are receiving. Idaho has already received two shipments so far, totaling more than 70,000 tests. We are expecting to receive around 530,000 tests, total, over the next couple of months.

Gov. Little directed that the first shipments be prioritized for teachers, school staff, and students. The tests have been shipped to the local public health districts. They are completing training modules and working with partners who can provide testing for the schools. Testing providers need to have a CLIA certificate of waiver to provide these tests.

Future shipments of the BinaxNOW tests will be distributed to high-priority populations in addition to the schools.

The BinaxNOW tests provide results in 15 minutes, but they are not as specific as the PCR tests. BinaxNOW can only be used for people who are symptomatic for COVID-19. Ideally, they should be used for testing within in the first 5-7 days of symptoms. BinaxNOW cannot be used for individuals who do not have symptoms or are “asymptomatic” contacts of a positive case.

Q: If a teacher or staff member needs to get tested, what should they do?

Testing for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is recommended at any time if symptoms develop OR if the teacher or staff member has been in close contact with a positive case. Remember, close contact is within 6 feet of someone for more than 15 minutes.

For testing options, teachers and school staff can contact their healthcare provider or the public health district for testing entities in their area. They can also visit get-tested-covid19.org for a listing of testing facilities in their area. This website will be updated as new testing facilities become available.

Some of the agreements mentioned above will work on a voucher system for uninsured or underinsured teachers and school staff. The local public health districts and the State Department of Education will be communicating with schools regarding testing recommendations and options for teachers and school staff as more information becomes available.

Q: Are any of these additional resources available for the testing of students?

It is recommended that parents contact their child’s healthcare provider and discuss testing for SARS-CoV-2. The resources for teachers and school staff may also be extended to students as they become available in their communities.

To slow the spread of COVID-19 in Idaho, please remember to:

  • Keep at least six feet between you and others in public
  • Wear face coverings in public places 
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Wash your hands often
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Disinfect surfaces and objects regularly

Resources

Stay up-to-date with the latest and most accurate information on COVID-19 at the following websites:

DHW also posts lots of information, including daily updates on the numbers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sonja Schriever is the chief of the Bureau of Community and Environmental Health in the Division of Public Health.

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