The first half of a promised 100,000 at-home COVID test kits were delivered to Baltimore schools Tuesday by city officials who fanned out across the city.
The tests, which the city bought for $580,000, were dropped at city schools where they will be given to students. In addition to the 50,000 tests delivered Tuesday, 40,000 N95 masks were also distributed.
Speaking in front of Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School where he personally delivered supplies, Mayor Brandon Scott said the tests are intended for use not just by city students but also by their families, strengthening the city’s community testing program.
“This is just a way for us to make sure our young people are safe, and our students and staff are safe as we allow them to do the most important thing, which is to learn,” Scott said.
Baltimore schools already have an established testing program. Unlike other school systems in the region, the city does weekly testing of all staff and all students whose parents have signed consent forms.
The city uses testing that combines a classroom of students and staff into one sample. If one person is positive, the entire pool will be positive and each individual in the pool must be tested to see who has the virus. Students in that pool must quarantine until they have a negative test and can come back to school.
Over vocal objections by city teachers, some parents and various member of the Baltimore City Council, Baltimore school leaders opted earlier this month to have students return to the classroom after the winter holidays in spite of surging coronavirus cases. CEO Sonja Santelises, backed by Scott and numerous state officials, argued city children are safest at school.
Last week however, a third of the city schools moved temporarily to online learning after test results from the weekend prior showed thousands of students and staff may have the coronavirus.
Baltimore schools spokeswoman Gwendolyn Chambers said the district has been coordinating with the mayor’s office for deliveries, and provided a distribution list for each school. School officials will complete the deliveries later this week, she said.
The additional test kits will be “very helpful,” she said, although the district is still assessing how they will be integrated into the district’s overall testing program.
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Scott said he envisions the home test kits being supplemental to the in-school testing program.
“When you’re talking about our most precious resource, our young people and the folks who are educating them, we have to go over and above to make sure they’re supported,” he said.
Mergenthaler was one of at least seven stops the mayor, a 2002 graduate of the school, was making Tuesday morning in Northeast Baltimore.
Scott promised the tests to the school system earlier this month as his administration ordered a total of 200,000 for use in the city. About 100,000 tests have arrived thus far, half of which went to the school system and another 50,000 of which will be distributed by the city and its community partners like libraries and nonprofits. Scott said the second half of the order has yet to arrive, but will be distributed promptly when it is in hand.
During a City Council hearing last week on coronavirus testing, city Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa said she expects the demand for at-home tests to slow now that the holidays are over and the infection rate across the state has slowed slightly. Still, demand is hard to predict, she said.
“We really do believe 100,000 is a good start,” she said at the time.
Baltimore plans to seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the at-home test kits, city spokesman Cal Harris said. The masks were pulled from a city stockpile paid for by a number of revenue streams including the federal CARES Act and Baltimore’s general fund.