Carroll County’s health officer and school superintendent have proposed that students use take-home COVID-19 tests when they are in quarantine.
County health officer Ed Singer said the idea is to have students take the test on day five and seven of quarantine, and then allow them to return to school if both tests are negative. He said the Maryland Department of Health is working to get testing kits.
During last Wednesday’s school board meeting, Singer said his biggest concern about students getting COVID-19 is bringing the virus back home. He’s seen entire families in quarantine because a child brought it home from school, Singer said, and although the case numbers are relatively low, he thinks “we can do a little bit better.”
Singer, who was attending his last school board meeting as health officer before stepping down from the position, said the kits would be rapid testing. It would not require a full probe of the nose but a swab in the mid-nasal cavity that can produce results in 15 minutes. However, he and school staff are still working on the exact protocol of the take-home test and the kits will take between three or four weeks to arrive.
Lockard said they are expecting that usage of the test kits could be optional, but Singer said he thinks it should be a requirement.
“We got to keep getting people to do their part,” Singer said.
Board member Ken Kiler said he likes the idea of the tests but noted it will be hard to police. And while he understands the concern of spreading the virus, he noted that few school-aged children have been hospitalized due to COVID.
Lockard said they also are expecting the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, to require vaccines for school employees or weekly testing. And the system is working to provide the space and personnel to conduct the testing.
According to the White House, OSHA is developing a rule that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work. The White House does not state any vaccine or testing requirements for students, but states vaccinating eligible students is “the most important step parents can take.”
“As an individual, I would say I do not support a vaccine mandate of any kind whether it be for our employees or for our students,” board member Donna Sivigny said.
She added that vaccines should only be a recommendation and was glad to hear testing can be an alternative.
Lockard and Singer estimate at least 85% of school staff are vaccinated. Singer added he wouldn’t make vaccines mandatory, but noted the take-home test would be the “middle of the road.”
“I think we need to do something,” he said. “We just can’t put our heads in the sand.”
If the vaccine and testing do become federally mandated, Singer said he is not sure if the take-home test would suffice. He suspects the tests would have to be medically supervised.
Rochelle Eisenberg, the board’s legal counsel, said no guidance has been given yet on how testing would be regulated.