COVID-19 testing study helps Kansas City schools track virus spread

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Medical researchers at Children’s Mercy Hospital are working with Kansas City Public Schools to keep children and teachers safe during the new school year.

The district reports more than 120 students and staff from 13 different schools in quarantine as of Sept. 1. Of those cases, 42 are in students in 8th grade or younger, 21 cases are from middle and high school buildings, and the remainder are in administration roles.

Children’s Mercy received federal money through the National Institutes of Health to examine virus testing in the classroom and is now working with KCPS.

The group has been testing students and staff at James Elementary and seven other schools during the spring and summer. Health care workers have learned that both teachers and students preferred nasal swab tests to saliva testing.

“We actually were a little bit surprised,” Dr. Jennifer Goldman, an infectious diseases specialist at the hospital, said. “The FDA has actually approved many different tests, but no one has asked kids or staff what they want. This is a self-administered swab that even kindergartners can do. It just goes up to the tip of the nose. The spit test, it took a little bit longer. It was a little grosser, as described by kids and staff. And so we were surprised, but this is actually very effective and efficient.”

Test results are provided within 24 to 48 hours, which allows administrators to quickly quarantine a sick child’s or infected teacher’s close contacts.

About 500 students and staff participate in this voluntary testing program. The molecular PCR tests are free, fully funded by the federal government. The school district says as the virus continues to spread, more parents are signing up every day to have their children be part of the program.

The goal is not to shut down whole classrooms, and school administrators say the mask mandate is helping prevent larger numbers of students and staff from being quarantined or isolated.

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