by Greg Lathan

When President Biden set a bold goal of re-opening schools in his first 100 days in office, public health experts quickly pointed out that periodic/frequent COVID testing would have to be an integral part of the plan. While a questionnaire and temperature scan may have provided peace of mind and screened out potential cases in 2020, more stringent measures are needed for student and teacher populations as we re-open America’s schools.  Enter Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT). The introduction of these highly sensitive, rapid tests is making it possible to identify coronavirus carriers and limit transmission in highly populated school settings. 

As RATs have become significantly more cost effective for public use, their role in school systems to screen entire student/faculty populations (or simply to identify those students/faculty who were in close contact with a COVID carrier) has become an affordable avenue to minimize indoor transmission of the virus. 

Are they right for your school?  

In our prior COVID blog in January, The EI Group summarized the three basic types of COVID screening tests – PCR, antigen and antibody.  Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) from the FDA have helped bring a number of RATs to market with increasing availability. RAT screening for the novel coronavirus antigen (or surface proteins) is less costly and significantly faster (15-30 minutes) than PCR tests, allowing for rapid “point of contact” (POC) testing. 

Although not without challenges (RATs are less sensitive that PCR tests), they are also more likely to identify those COVID carriers who are the most infectiouswith the highest probability of transmitting coronavirus to others.  Ideally, an individual who tests positive for SARS-CoV2 antigen, should subsequently take a PCR test for confirmation.  Although ONLY a screening tool, POC rapid antigen screening of students and faculty for the SARS-CoV-2 surface protein can be a game changer.

During 2020, EI’s temperature screening of over 200,000 employees at 12 highly populated facilities identified four employees in 10,000 (or 1 employee in 2,500 workers) as COVID positive. In contrast, after adding RATs only once a week, EI was able to identify five COVID carriers in every 350 employees (or one in every 70 individuals!). It is becoming increasingly apparent that rapid antigen screening will play a key role in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in schools, the workplace, or other areas where large populations congregate in enclosed spaces.

How Can We Help?
If your school needs assistance establishing an occupational COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Testing process, The EI Group can help! Our cumulative “boots on the ground” knowledge has revealed that proper planning and communication are key to effective/efficient screening of individuals who may be coronavirus carriers before they enter the workplace. Check out more from the CDC on testing in schools and please do not hesitate to contact us at (800) 717-3472 or [email protected]!