PHOTOS: Olathe Pirates return to in-person learning

An Olathe staff member takes a student's temperature outside the entrance to Olathe Middle and High School on the first day of school in August. Gov. Jared Polis announced Thursday the launch of a COVID-19 at-home testing program, which is set to launch next week. 

Colorado will be one of three states to launch a first-of-its-kind, innovative COVID-19 At-Home Testing Program for educators. The program is set to launch next week, according to a press release issued by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ office Thursday.

The back-to-school task force recommended expanded testing capacity for school districts in December.

Colorado was chosen to partner with Abbott Laboratories, the producer of the BinaxNOW tests that can be used at home or at school. The test provides results within 15 minutes and can be used at home or at school.

Through the partnership, the state will work to expand the use of rapid testing to further open the economy and suppress the virus. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) also partnered with Amazon and eMed, one of the nation’s leading digital health providers, to bring testing to educators’ homes. A medical professional will be present during the testing through a telehealth appointment.

“Colorado purchased 2 million BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card test kids, which will be delivered directly to the homes of teachers, staff, and selected students from hundreds of participating public and private schools across the state,” according to the news release.

School districts and schools received a letter to request their interest in participating in the program. More than 250 schools and districts have requested test kits. Kits were launched Thursday and shipments will continue in the coming weeks and months.

The state is taking steps to make home BinaxNOW tests available through the end of the school year to all districts that opt into the program.

“In-person learning is critical for the health, safety and well-being of students and the whole family,” Polis said. “We know that remote learning is really hurting the participation of women in the workplace, juvenile mental health, childhood hunger and loss of learning for our students.

“That’s why since last fall when students started returning to school, my administration has spared no expense to implement a highly effective layered approach to safety.”

While this may come as welcome news, many educators, school districts and families may have questions about testing. Abbott Laboratories addressed some of those questions in a Jan. 15 new release.

What does the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card test for? “Specific COVID-19 antigens (the proteins that make up the virus), which are the part of a virus that prompts an immune system response and signal an active infection.”

How does the test work? With a simple, less invasive nasal swab, the BinaxNOW card will provide results in 15 minutes. One line: Negative. Two lines: Positive.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently gave the BinaxNOW test emergency use authorization for use with telehealth guidance for self-collection among people age 15 and older and for adult collection in children ages 4 to 14. The state reports CDPHE purchased 2 million test kits for schools for use in the first month. Additional purchases will take place through a cost-share agreement between schools and the state or may be reimbursed by the federal government.

While the BinaxNOW antigen test offers fast turnaround at an affordable price for schools to help prevent coronavirus transmission, a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control finds the test may not be foolproof.

The CDC had two community-based testing sites in Pima County, Arizona, use the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card test and measure its sensitivity for people who are asymptomatic and symptomatic with the COVID-19. Sampling 3,419 people twice, the study compared the BinaxNOW to PCR tests.

BinaxNOW had a sensitivity of 35.8% in asymptomatic people and 64.2% in COVID-19 symptomatic people. Taking cultures from the samples of the asymptomatic viral culture positive subpopulation, the BinaxNOW test sensitivity was 78.6%. The test sensitivity increased to 92.6% among symptomatic people with a positive viral culture.

“Although the sensitivity of the BinaxNOW antigen test to detect infection was lower compared with real-time RT-PCR, it was relatively high among specimens with positive viral culture, which might reflect better performance for detecting infection in a person with infectious virus present,” the CDC study reports.

Even though the specificity approached 100% in the study, which suggests the BinaxNOW test rarely shows a false positive, there is still potential for false positives when using antigen tests. Still, “Persons who know their positive test result within 15–30 minutes can isolate sooner, and contact tracing can be initiated sooner and be more effective than if a test result is returned days later,” the study discusses.

Since last fall, the Polis administration reported providing over 230,000 PCR tests to teachers and educators through its vendor COVIDCheck Colorado. The state also funded over 70 COVIDCheck Colorado testing locations across the state as of Jan. 28.

More than 7 million medical-grade masks were distributed to teachers in both private and public schools weekly. This is scheduled to continue for the remainder of the academic year, the new release states. School districts have also had access to $15 million in grants through the state to cover additional costs to increase COVID safety protocols like outdoor classrooms and ventilation improvements.

Lauren Brant is a staff writer and digital content coordinator for the Montrose Daily Press.

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