Covid-19 testing in schools essential to ensure safety

Johannesburg – There has been much discussion about the reopening and closing of schools, but conversations have been centred on learners’ access to technology and e-learning rather than the practicalities of what is needed to ensure learners and teachers stay safe.

  Leviathan Viral Testing Africa CEO Gerald Naidoo says Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is as vital as testing in ensuring that educators and learners stay safe. However, he points out that testing is perceived to be far more expensive and inaccessible than PPE.

  “A lot of focus is on the need for social distancing and PPE in schools. However, testing is the one sure way to ensure that we are constantly aware of what is going on at schools. If schools had the ability to test every learner and teacher, every day, this would ensure that everyone in the education system, from parents to teachers and learners, is more confident in their ability to fight the spread of the virus,” Naidoo says. 

  He adds that rapid deployment of testing must be made available to support outbreaks in schools, executed in ways such as deployment of Mobile Testing Units (MTUs), temporary testing satellites and drop-off and collection routes. 

  “The most appropriate testing channel should be agreed among all stakeholders. The provincial and national departments of education should also roll out testing for teachers, as well as school staff who have worked at schools that have an outbreak; the tests should be repeated regularly. This will ensure that schools can contain infections, and government has a constant view of infection rates,” Naidoo says.

  He adds that South African learners need to be at school, since remote schooling is mostly impossible for the poor, not to mention that 80% of the children receive publicly funded meals at schools, and for many of them it is the only nutritious meal they get every day.

  “It is important to develop strategies that can be revised and adapted, depending on the level of viral transmission in the school and throughout the community, and this requires regular testing and fast results,” Naidoo says.

  He adds that they have developed a three-tier system that ensures that everybody is constantly aware of their status, allowing schools to safely continue operating while also providing a proactive method of managing an effective Covid-19 response to minimise infection rates. 

  “Combining temperature and symptom screening with both antibody and PCR testing, this system allows for constant screening to provide an accurate indication of infection levels every day. This also offers the added benefit of allowing authorities to have a real-time view of hotspots and the movement of the virus, and alleviate pressure on labs. With antibody testing as a surveillance tool, only those individuals flagged as potentially being in the first day or two of infection need to be tested using PCR, dramatically reducing the numbers of tests that need to be conducted by our overworked labs. Applying a three-tier approach to Covid-19 screening in schools will provide a solution to the calls for school closures, ensuring that the academic year can be saved,” he says.

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