K-12 schools can now receive free Covid-19 rapid tests from NCDHHS

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is expanding access to Covid-19 rapid testing in K-12 public schools.

Public school districts and charter schools can now opt into a N.C. Department of Health and Human Services program to provide free Covid-19 rapid tests to students, staff and their families.

The program is expected to prevent outbreaks and reduce the spread of the virus within school walls when done in addition to other prevention measures such as wearing masks and social distancing.

NCDHHS piloted the program this winter, sending more than 50,000 federally funded antigen tests to 17 school districts and 11 charters from December 2020 through February 2021. The tests were given to students and staff who had Covid-19 symptoms or were in close contact to someone who later tested positive.

The goal was to identify cases following the holiday spike. Bladen County was the closest county on the list to receive the pilot, at just one location: Emereau Bladen Charter School. The state announced on March 4 plans to expand the program statewide.

According to a school nurse in Lenoir County, the pilot was a success: “Our staff has been able to rapidly identify positive cases and conduct contact tracing in a timely manner; thus, keeping our school safe,” said April Hardy, who also serves as a liaison for the Lenoir County health department, in a press release. “In addition, staff and students identified as close contacts have been able to return back to school sooner with such easily accessible tests.”

School boards and charter schools must request the tests and meet a series of requirements, such as confirming parental/guardian consent before testing students. There also needs to be an adequate supply of personal protective equipment as well as trained personnel to administer the tests or a partner local health provider. All results must go to the public health department.

Only students, their families and staff who are symptomatic or were knowingly exposed to the virus may receive one of the free rapid tests. School districts can also screen teachers and staff weekly, if they choose.

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