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Genesee County, MI— School staff in Genesee County can now get free, rapid antigen tests at school every week to reduce the risks associated with face-to-face instruction.
The voluntary program is offered through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to all Pre-K–12 schools at no cost.
The Genesee Intermediate School District adopted the program last month and is responsible for overseeing the distribution of the tests.
“A district can choose to participate at any point, as can staff members. We have a number of districts that have already decided to take part in it,” Associate Superintendent Steven Tunnicliff said.
GISD officials said they cannot reveal which districts have opted in.
“GISD cannot release the district specific testing information, we do not have the right or permissions to share that information,” GISD Superintendent Lisa Hagel said.
Flint Schools officials did not respond when asked if they would be participating in the program once students return to classrooms.
To participate, schools must designate a staff member to administer the test. The MDHHS does not require staff members to be medically licensed, but they must undergo video training to learn how to read test results, determine next steps, fulfill reporting requirements and dispose of the antigen tests. Participants perform the nasal swabs on themselves.
“I’ve been through that training myself and will be helping with the process here at the ISD,” Tunnicliff said.
MDHHS requires the tests be performed once week before classes begin. Negative and positive results must also be reported daily.
Antigen tests work differently than the more commonly used PCR test. Though both use samples taken from nasal cavity swabs, PCR tests look for genetic material from the virus while antigen tests look for molecules on the virus’ surface.
PCR tests require specialized equipment and must be sent off to labs for diagnostics, which means it takes at least a day for results. However, antigen tests can be run in 15 minutes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention antigen tests have a downside: they are less accurate when it comes to detecting the virus in asymptomatic individuals.
In studies, the antigen tests had a sensitivity of 41.2 percent and a specificity of 98.4 percent when screening for asymptomatic individuals. However, in symptomatic individuals, the antigen test had a sensitivity of 80 percent and specificity of 98.9 percent.
Test sensitivity is the ability of the test to correctly identify patients that have a disease while test specificity is the ability of the test to correctly identify patients that do not have a disease.
Despite imperfections, the CDC suggests antigen tests used for “serial” testing of asymptomatic may help with early case identification.
“[This program] is about regular testing… The concept is basically similar to that of cadence testing,” Tunnicliff said, adding that it is not a solution for school staff who are already showing symptoms.
Overall, he said he hopes the antigen tests bring peace of mind to students, staff, parents and community members.
“This is one more way, we believe, that we can help to provide and ensure a safe working and learning environment for our staff and our students… I think it’s also safe to say it helps to provide staff and parents and students alike with an additional sense of safety.”