Random COVID-19 testing in one school district increased the rate of cases detected among students SIX-FOLD, study finds 

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  • Researchers launched a five-week pilot program in three Omaha schools, including one high school and two middle schools
  • They found that regularly testing students at school for Covid increased case detection six-fold, from 12 per 1,000 to 70 per 1,000
  • Number of undetected COVID-19 cases found in high school far more than two middle schools
  • Previous studies estimated that 60% of COVID cases in the US last year went undetected, making the spread of the virus harder to control

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A new study has found that regularly testing students at school when they come to in-person learning can significantly increase the number of COVID cases.

Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center began a five-week pilot trial program at three schools in the local Omaha area.

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During the five-week programme, there was a six-fold increase in the number of COVID-19 infections detected per 1,000 students in schools.

Research has found that many cases of the virus have gone unnoticed, and epidemics can be controlled more easily with regular asymptomatic testing.

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Researchers found that bi-weekly testing of students attending in-person classes led to a six-fold increase in the detection of COVID-19 cases from 12 per 1,000 to 70 per 1,000 (above).

Robust testing and COVID detection programs can help schools limit the spread of the virus and control the outbreak, which has hit the early part of the new school year.  Pictured: Students in Los Angeles, California check their temperatures at the start of the school day on August 30

Robust testing and COVID detection programs can help schools limit the spread of the virus and control the outbreak, which has hit the early part of the new school year. Pictured: Students in Los Angeles, California check their temperatures at the start of the school day on August 30

researchers who published their findings jama network open On Wednesday, two Omaha middle schools and one high school launched the program from November 9, 2020 to December 11, 2020.

About 50 to 60 percent of students were attending individual classes – which were optional at the time.

Some students attending individual classes took a saliva-based COVID-19 test every week, regardless of whether they displayed symptoms or had a known exposure to the virus.

In all, 315 of the 2,712 students in the three schools combined were tested an average of twice over a five-week period.

The remaining students followed the general COVID testing guidelines.

The researchers found that 70 out of every 1,000 students in the pilot group tested positive for the virus, a six-fold increase from 12 out of 1,000 in the control group.

School A, the high school, had a particularly drastic turnaround, with more than 10 percent of students as part of a pilot trial testing positive for the virus, compared to less than two percent of the control group.

School B had a minimal increase, while School C also saw a nearly six-fold increase in COVID cases detected by routine testing.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that choir students were 2.8 times more likely to contract the virus in all three schools.

“Collectively, these findings provide insight into the performance and community value of test-based SARS-CoV-2 screening and surveillance strategies in kindergarten through 12th grade educational settings,” the researchers wrote.

The research adds to growing evidence that many COVID cases go undetected, and that the US outbreak may be worse than believed.

A University of Washington study published in July found that an estimated 60 percent of COVID cases in 2020 were undetected.

Going unnoticed—especially in environments like schools—where thousands of staff and students are constantly interacting in close quarters can be especially worrisome.

A student who tests positive for the virus will often be forced into quarantine for two weeks, and students at known risk may also be tested and quarantined.

If some students are known to carry the virus, the exposed students will not know either, which will spread the virus even more.

Many schools around the US have already run into Covid issues in the early months of the school year.

However, a more robust testing system could detect more cases early, and potentially stop the spread of the virus.

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