The North Dakota Department of Health, with support from local public health and the North Dakota National Guard, will roll out free rapid testing for K-12 teachers, staff and administrators this week as part of a pilot project to identify asymptomatic COVID-19 cases so they can quickly isolate and prevent further spread of the virus.
Testing of K-12 teachers, staff and administrators will begin this week in the Fargo, West Fargo and Dickinson school districts. Testing is highly recommended in order to proactively isolate positive cases and keep educational spaces safe for students and staff. Staff members who work closely with students are strongly encouraged to participate weekly. Testing is limited to K-12 personnel; students will not be tested.
The plan is to test teachers, staff and administrators weekly until Dec. 31, 2020.
“These rapid tests are a new tool in the toolbox that will help us break the chain of transmission by helping to identify the silent epidemic of COVID-positive individuals unknowingly spreading the virus,” said Dr. Joshua Wynne, the state’s chief health strategist and dean of the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences.
“Deploying these rapid tests to K-12 school districts will help to quickly identify and isolate asymptomatic carriers and prevent further spread of the virus to bend the curve in the right direction, while helping schools remain open or return to in-person learning,” said Gov. Doug Burgum, who met three times with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including twice with CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield as the rapid testing strategy was developed. “Conducting this testing before and after Thanksgiving will also provide insights and help us fine-tune our strategy for reducing community spread, thereby protecting our health care capacity.”
“We know most students are best served by in-person learning where they receive critical academic, social, nutrition, and physical safety supports to help them learn and grow,” State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said. “Our schools are implementing and consistently using strong mitigation strategies to keep in-person learning safe and slow community spread of COVID-19. Testing asymptomatic teachers, staff, and administrators will rapidly isolate positive cases which adds an additional layer to the foundation of consistent and strong mitigation strategies.”
The weekly testing will use Abbott BinaxNOW point-of-care antigen tests, which can diagnose a coronavirus infection in as little as 15 minutes. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is allocating 220,000 BinaxNOW tests to North Dakota by the end of the year as part of 150 million units purchased by the federal government in August.
The North Dakota Department of Health is working with local public health units and school districts to coordinate the testing. It’s anticipated that weekly rapid testing for teachers, staff and administrators will be rolled out to additional school districts in the coming days and weeks.
Rapid testing isn’t a substitute for basic measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including physical distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands and avoiding crowded indoor spaces.