OKLAHOMA CITY — Public schools statewide are slated to receive rapid COVID-19 tests by the end of year, state Department of Health officials announced today.
Lance Frye, the interim health commissioner, said the federal government has told him Oklahoma’s public schools are slated to receive newly developed rapid antigen COVID-19 tests that will not require the use of a testing machine to process them.
The tests, which were recently released by Abbott Laboratories, cost $5 and can give a clear positive or negative result within 15 minutes and don’t require a laboratory or machine to process. Health care workers swab inside the nose and place the sample on a card, Abbott said. Using chemical droplets, the card reportedly changes color to signify positive or negative results, officials said.
“(Those) should be starting to come out soon, but they’re going to prioritize states that are currently having people in shelters like from fires or hurricanes or other situations,” Frye said. “And then they will eventually start working through the prioritization of which states get it and get to us.”
Jennifer Lepard, chief administrative officer with the Health Department, said schools should plan to have the tests by the end of December. The tests will be sent to the state, which will then distribute them to schools.
Point-of-care antigen tests provide a COVID-19 diagnosis within minutes by analyzing virus proteins. COVID-19 molecular test, which detect genetic material, have to be sent away to laboratories for processing. Results can take days.
School districts are working hard to provide a safe learning environment and to minimize disruptions to teaching and learning, but can’t do it alone, said Shawn Hime, executive director of the State School Boards Association.
“COVID-19 is in schools because it’s in our communities,” he said. “Providing schools ready access to reliable COVID-19 testing with immediate results could be a great opportunity to keep students and school employees safe while reducing disruptions. It could also help community members better understand the prevalence of COVID-19 in their area so they can take precautions to ensure school can safely continue.”
As the antigen rapid test results become more widely used throughout the state, the information they provide could help more quickly identify those who have been exposed to coronavirus, said Dr. George Monks, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association.
“These results will be instrumental in helping slow the spread throughout densely populated areas such as schools, colleges and nursing homes, where quick identification of the disease can save countless lives,” he said. “In addition, antigen tests can give contact tracers a much-needed boost in their efforts to identify people who have been exposed to those with COVID-19 and notify others of potential risks.”
Hundreds of rapid antigen testing analyzer machines have been arriving at nursing homes across the state.
The rapid-result machines and kits to run the tests are being provided to all nursing homes and skilled-nursing facilities in the state by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services so that staff and residents can be tested for the deadly virus.
Health officials said the tests will be able to deliver a result within 15 to 20 minutes on average.
Officials hope that the rapid tests will detect asymptotic carriers and better protect residents and staff from the deadly disease.
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.