JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Free COVID testing is available to any kindergarten through 12th-grade school in Missouri, but the big problem is only 11 districts are taking advantage.
Of the more than 550 school districts in the state, less than 2% are offering regular testing for students and staff. Missouri was given millions of dollars to stop COVID in schools and with the holidays and a new variant, the push is even greater for schools to participate.
“What we really need is for communities to understand that this is a way to really stop transmission,” regional leader for Concentric by Ginko Karen Hogan said “The jury is out for how serious Omicron is going to be, we’re waiting for that scientific evidence.”
In a state where less than 52% of the population is vaccinated, regular testing in schools is important.
“We have great examples of schools that had high positivity rates when they started opening their doors again, but with regular testing, got them down to about 1% to 2%,” Hogan said.
Hogan is the regional leader for testing in K-12 schools. Concentric by Ginkgo is the company the state hired to offer free testing inside Missouri schools.
“It’s a shallow nasal swab, it looks like a Q-tip and it’s just three times around in each nostril,” Hogan said.
The program includes a classroom, up to 25 individuals to be tested in less than 15 minutes, then the test kits are sent to a local lab and the results are posted on an online portal for administrators to see. If there is a positive case, additional testing is provided for that student and those considered close contacts.
The problem, only 11 out of the 554 school districts are participating, with testing in 81 sites, according to the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). Here is a list of the school districts utilizing the free testing:
- Academie Lafayette
- Academy For Integrated Arts
- Allen Village
- Ferguson-Florissant R-II
- Gordon Parks Elem.
- Hickman Mills C-1
- Islamic School of Greater Kansas City
- Kansas City 33
- Kipp: Endeavor Academy
- Lafayette Preparatory Academy
- MO – Citizens of the World Charter – Elementary
Under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), Missouri received roughly $185 million to trace and stop COVID-19 in schools, making pool testing free for staff and students.
“As the numbers climb, start to consider putting in that routine testing program to help keep the numbers low and avoid mass quarantine or even shutting down classrooms or entire schools,” Hogan said.
She said another problem, parents aren’t allowing their child to be tested.
“Anytime a child is tested, they must have a parent or guardians’ approval,” Hogan said. “I have been in these positions of, ‘Wait a second. You want to do what with my child?’ So, we make sure all of those resources are available.”
Concentric by Ginkgo offers free testing to schools in more than 25 other states. Testing is normally done inside classrooms and takes less than 30 seconds. She said no personal information is released to the company. The school is in charge of setting up the roster and along with the digital portal.
Hogan said with the holidays and the Omicron variant, they expect positivity rates to double.
To learn more about the pooled testing in schools, visit the state’s health department website at: https://health.mo.gov/living/healthcondiseases/communicable/novel-coronavirus/education.php