Flint, MI— Flint Schools may soon implement rapid antigen COVID testing pending board approval April 21. 

The program is offered through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to all Pre-K–12 schools at no cost. The goal is to provide school staff and students with a frequent, safe way to be tested for COVID-19 to mitigate the risks of face-to-face instruction. 

Antigen tests work differently than the more commonly used PCR test. Though both use samples swabbed from the nasal cavity, PCR tests require specialized equipment and must be sent off to labs for diagnostics, which means it takes at least one day for results. However, antigen tests can be run in 15 minutes.

The Genesee Intermediate School District adopted the program in Feb. 2021 and is responsible for overseeing the distribution of the tests. 

“The purpose of the antigen test now is for people that are not fully vaccinated and are asymptomatic,” Health Coordinator for Flint SchooslssaEileen Tomasi said at Wednesday’s board meeting, health coordinator for Flint Schools.

Flint Schools must designate a staff member to administer the test, she said.

 The MDHHS does not require staff members 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.

While Flint students are no longer in school after the administration paused in-person learning due to a surge in COVID cases, staff members are still reporting to buildings. 

Board members expressed that they’d like to see the program to expand so the parents of students could get tested as well. 

“Maybe expanding that access to also parents if the supply allows for it…. I think it’s becoming more available in communities but, if that can eliminate a barrier for a parent, I just wonder if this applies there,” Trustee Adrian Walker psaid. 

Treasurer Laura MacIntyre said she agreed with Walker. 

“Is there some way that we can, as Trustee Walker said, eliminate some of these bureaucratic barriers…. I mean, it just seems kind of silly that if you’re dropping off your child, and it’s available, why we wouldn’t do anything in our power to, help with this pandemic?” ManIntyre said. 

Tomasi agreed that she would inquire the state to determine whether the district could offer tests to parents 

However 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 (the ability to identify people with the disease) of 41.2 percent and a specificity (the ability to test people who do not have the disease) 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. 

“[This program] is about regular testing… The concept is basically similar to that of cadence testing,” Associate President of the Genesee Intermediate School District Steven Tunnicliff said, adding that it is not a solution for school staff who are already showing symptoms. 

The next school board meting will be held at 6:30 p.m. April 21. 

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...

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