The state of Missouri took a huge risk early in the turbulent 2020-21 school year when it put up approximately 1 million fast COVID testing for the province’s K-12 schools with the aim of swiftly detecting sick kids or staff members.

Rapid Covid Testing In Schools: Lessons Learned The Hard Way In Missouri

Trump’s government had paid almost $760 million to purchase 150 million quick response antigen tests at Abbott Laboratories, including 1.75 million that was allocated to Missouri, and had instructed states to use the tests as they saw appropriate.

Rapid Covid Testing In Schools: Lessons Learned The Hard Way In Missouri

A total of almost 400 charter, private, and public school districts in Missouri applied. According to conversations with school administrators and papers acquired in response to a public information request, each student was only given one test per person due to supply limitations.

What started out as an ambitious idea came crashing down with a thud. Only a small number of the exams were administered; according to state statistics updated in early June, schools reported administering 32,300 assessments. Missouri’s attempt offers a glimpse into the difficulties of COVID testing in K-12 schools, well before the common infectious delta version made its way into the state’s educational system. 

As a result of the spread of Delta, communities are embroiled in emotional battles over how to safely return children who are overwhelmingly unvaccinated to their classrooms, especially in states like Missouri, which are bedeviled by a strong aversion to mask mandates as well as low vaccination rates. As classes resume anew, schools must evaluate the pros and cons of testing and other measures to contain the spread of COVID, possibly without a sufficient supply of test kits on hand.

Educators in Missouri have characterized the testing that started last October as a gift since it has helped to identify sick individuals while also providing instructors with peace of mind. However, as per interviews and records acquired by KHN, the organization’s logistical difficulties were apparent very soon. 

Many schools or districts that requested quick testing identified just one health care practitioner to administer them, despite the fact that there were dozens of them. Because the quick tests were originally intended to be used for just six months, authorities were hesitant to purchase an excessive number of them. Some people were concerned that the tests might provide incorrect findings or that on-site testing of someone who was showing signs of COVID would spread the virus.

As the limitations of distance learning became apparent last year, authorities pushed for a return to the classroom. The governor, Mike Parson, said at one point that children will unavoidably catch the virus at school but that “they’re going to get over it.” Now, even as the number of children COVID cases rises as a result of the delta variation, school districts throughout the country are being pressed to return to normal classroom teaching. According to experts, the use of quick antigen testing in K-12 schools has usually been restricted, despite the significant investment made in the technology. The Biden administration has allocated $10 billion via the American Rescue Plan Act to boost regular covid screening in schools, with $185 million going to the state of Missouri.

With the help of an agreement with Ginkgo Bioworks, the state of Missouri will create a program for K-12 schools to test individuals who do not exhibit symptoms routinely. Ginkgo Bioworks is providing testing materials, training, and personnel under the terms of the agreement. When compared to COVID tests that use the polymerase chain reaction method, which may take several days to provide results, quick antigen testing can produce findings in minutes.