Covid-19 K-12 Tests

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Covid-19 K-12 Tests

Countries and even states around the world have adopted different approaches when it comes to testing for the Covid-19 in schools. Some have offered voluntary tests for staff, others for students, and some countries have decided to not conduct tests at school. Debates have taken place in most countries around concerns about the safety of the measures taken and the dates chose to return to school. However, so far, there have not been many cases recorded as a result. The case studies cover Australia, the UK, Singapore, and Germany.

CASE 1: AUSTRALIA

1) Testing and Tracing Policy for Schools

  • In Australia, states and territories chose different measures and dates to reopen schools.
  • In the state of Western Australia, after the local government did not record any new infections at the end of April, it revealed a plan to launch mass Covid-19 testing in schools.
  • The government announced that the tests used in schools would be less intrusive than the ones used in clinics, featuring a shallower throat and nose swab.
  • Kids can be tested with previous consent from parents or school staff.
  • The testing will be voluntary and run in partnership with the Telethon Kids Institute.
  • One of the aims of the campaign is to study the rate of infection in schools where symptoms might not be overly apparent.
  • 80 schools have been selected to take part in the testing program.

2) Ongoing Debates

  • In Western Australia, teacher Unions have supported the government's initiative about COVID-19 testing at schools.
  • However, the debate remains whether the safety and hygiene measures to be implemented at school would be sufficient to guarantee the safety of staff and children.
  • A survey of 2,000 teachers found that 18% did not have hand sanitizer available in their school and had to bring their own.
  • The debate in Australia was about the safety of students going back to classes and the measures to be taken to prevent infections.
  • However, some studies have shown that the risk was low with a study finding that the transmission rate recorded in 15 schools was less than 1%.

3) Results

  • A school was closed in New South Wales in early May after a 7-year old student was tested positive to Covid-19 in a school near Sidney.
  • In Victoria state, a teacher tested positive to Covid-19 in early May at a school near Melbourne, which led to the school being closed during three days for cleaning and contact tracing.

CASE 2: UK

1) Testing and Tracing Policy for Schools

  • In the UK, the government introduced a scheme to test all school staff that present Covid-19 symptoms as they are considered "essential workers".
  • Students would be able to be tested for Covid-19 as well as their family if they experienced symptoms, which would allow them to safely return to class after a 14-day period of quarantine.
  • A national tracing programme was also implemented to the whole country featuring a combination of a dedicated app, as well as web and phone-based tracing. If school students test positive to Covid-19, more traditional methods of contact tracing will be used, such as discussions with schools or parents. The scheme should allow to trace persons who have been in contact with schoolchildren.
  • If other children are traced to be positive within a school, Public Health England would investigate and advise the educational institution on the most appropriate measures to take. Measures can be the quarantine of some children, a class, a site or a whole year group. In the worst case scenario, a whole school can be closed.

2) Ongoing Debates

  • Many primary schools have not reopened on the date set by the government, due to concerns towards being able to guarantee the safety of students and staff.
  • In some areas, 90% of primary schools remained closed in the UK on the 1rst of June, which was the date chosen by the government to reopen their doors.
  • The main opposition party has criticized the government for not having responded to concerns from parents, school staff and students about their health and the risks they face by returning to schools without the proper equipment or measures in place.
  • Teaching Unions such as the National Education Union, the largest one in the UK, have also been very vocal on the subject, arguing for a later reopening date, when the country is at a stage where the number of new infections is lower and schools are in a position to implement new hygiene measures and train staff.
  • Another argument given is that testing is still not efficient and the tracing process is new and unproven.
  • Doctors from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have also added their voice to the debate complaining that testing in the UK was "problematic" and the tracing programme"untested".

3) Results

CASE 3: SINGAPORE

1) Testing and Tracing Policy for Schools

  • In Singapore, the country decided to systematically test all staff in preschools before they reopened but this procedure did not apply to schools.
  • The government decided to take a risk-based approach because of the limited supply of tests and only proceed to test the most vulnerable individuals in schools, or people that were more at risk to be contaminated because they work closer to students.
  • The Singapore government declared that there would be no need to test everyone, including students and school staff, thanks to previous measures that have been taken to cut the transmission of the disease, and that contributed to reduce the infection risk significantly.
  • It was decided to conduct selective testing in schools, using the risk-based approach. This means that staff or children who are considered most at risk might be tested, such as the ones returning to educational settings after a 5-day sick leave for example.
  • However, despite not conducting tests in schools, Singapore focused on preschools with over 33,100 Covid-19 tests conducted by the end of May on teaching and non-teaching staff.
  • A successful tracing regime was implemented early in Singapore, resulting in 40% of the infections detected at a stage where the person infected still did not show any symptoms.

2) Ongoing Debates

  • Some of the debate in Singapore is about the necessity to test all school staff, and a petition has been launched to ask the government to implement this measure.
  • Not everyone agreed with the petition and some Singaporeans claimed that parents should also be tested for Covid-19 in addition to school staff.

3) Results

  • Since schools reopened on 2nd of June, there have not been any reported Covid-19 cases within staff or students.

CASE 4: GERMANY

1) Testing and Tracing Policy for Schools

  • Germany was amongst the first countries to reopen schools in April 2020 in some states.
  • The Germany government has yet to implement free testing in all schools.
  • In Germany, the 16 states are the ones responsible for taking decisions regarding schools opening and the measures to be taken to make it safe, including testing for Covid-19.
  • New directives related to the reopening of schools do not include compulsory testing and are more focused on social distancing and hygiene.
  • Many schools cannot afford to pay 40 euros/piece for Covid-19 tests so do not offer them to students or staff.
  • One of the few exceptions is a school in Neustrelitz that received them for free from a donor, and which has implemented a policy of offering voluntary biweekly tests, with incentives for people that took them and tested negative, such as a shorter toilet queue and no need to wear a face mask, thanks to a green sticker that students wear.
  • Tests used in that school located in Neustrelitz are provided by a company called CENTOGENE.

2) Ongoing Debates

  • In Germany, the debate is about introducing free testing for schools, even if it represents a cost for the government, but the argument is that it will be cheaper than closing down the economy.
  • Teachers also argue that testing would allow to increase the size of classes safely and to restart sports and music activities.
  • Specialists in virology warn against an unlimited opening of schools given the ability of children to spread the virus.
  • An issue is also the fact that many students are not tested because they do not show symptoms, but could still spread the virus.
  • Some parents and students have been raising concerns about the implementation of the safety guidelines in schools and whether it is safe to return to school, and boycott movements have been started.

3) Results

  • As of the 18th of May 2020, one school was closed at the week-end in Berlin after one teacher tested positive with Covid-19.
  • In the state of Brandenburg, a class of fifth graders was quarantined.

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Sources