Thousands of antigen tests to detect the novel coronavirus have been shipped to school districts across the state in an effort to help bolster testing capacity, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced this week.
Nearly 330 public and private school districts requested nearly 583,000 tests through the state’s BinaxNOW Antigen Testing Program. Missouri is expected to receive a total of 1.8 million BinaxNOW antigen test kits from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to a news release.
The distribution of the tests is part of a federal effort to assist states in reopening amid the pandemic.
The BinaxNOW antigen tests received an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, and are the only rapid point-of-care tests that do not require an instrument, according to a HHS news release.
The efficacy of the BinaxNOW antigen tests are still being studied by researchers. A recent study from scientists at the University of California, San Francisco found that the BinaxNOW antigen tests may be nearly as effective as the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test — however the number of participants was small, according to The New York Times.
According to state guidance, rapid antigen tests work best when someone is “in the early stages of infection with SARS-CoV-2 when viral load is generally highest.”
Schools were restricted to requesting up to one test per student and staff member due to the state’s limited supply. The nasal swab tests are intended to test symptomatic individuals and can receive results in as little as 15 minutes, according to a news release.
After receiving consent from a student’s parent or guardian, most districts will administer the tests on campus through a health professional, like a school nurse. Some districts have also partnered with local health department in order to conduct the testing.
Both positive and negative test results will be reported to the Department of Health and Senior Services within 24 hours, according to a news release.
“We believe these rapid antigen tests, in conjunction with other mitigation strategies, could be instrumental in helping schools provide onsite learning opportunities safely,” Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven said in a statement Monday.
For some rural school districts, the tests will increase access to COVID testing in areas where there was previously limited options.
“One of the key benefits of this program is getting testing into some schools — and frankly some communities — that don’t have a lot of testing capacity right now,” Mallory McGowin, a spokeswoman for DESE, said at a Missouri State Board of Education meeting last week.
All private and public schools within the state had the option to apply to receive the test kits and will begin to receive incremental shipments of the approximately 240,000 kits already available in the state’s inventory.
Last week, McGowin said that some school districts have expressed interest in applying at a later date. However, DESE cannot guarantee a second application window, as other entities, like veterans homes and long-term care facilities, are also eligible for the antigen tests.
“We want to be sure that when we’re given the opportunity like this, we’re getting these tests in the hands of schools that want them,” McGowin said at last week’s SBOE meeting. “Again, just another layer of supporting that ability to provide on-site learning opportunities.”
A list of schools and districts that have are participating in the state’s antigen testing program as of Monday can be found here.