School’s newly implemented COVID-19 testing system is up and running


Photo by Daniel Sofer

iHealth rapid antigen tests were distributed on Jan. 10 to students.

With the Omicron variant’s recent surge in Montgomery County, the public school system has started providing take-home COVID tests as well as weekly COVID testing inside of the school building.

The type of test that is administered depends on if the testing is random or if it is due to a student or staff member being symptomatic while inside of the school building. When a symptomatic student is tested, a rapid test that takes 15 to 20 minutes to return a result is used. However, during random testing, a much more reliable PCR test that takes 24 to 48 hours to return a result is used. “I think that by choosing tests that have a high likelihood of giving false negatives, the number of positive cases will be underreported. It sends a clear message that MCPS does not want students to go virtual,” junior Calvin Hanway said.

On Jan. 12, the school’s students received two free rapid tests to take home in their homeroom classes. One of those tests was to be administered that night with parents encouraged to report the result on a Google form that requires no verification, whether it was positive or negative. The second test was meant to be used at any point in the future if the student begins to experience symptoms.

The tests that were given out were made by the brand iHealth and have been authorized by the FDA for emergency use. They accurately display positive results 94.3% of the time and accurately display negative results 98.1% of the time.

A student who tests positive must quarantine for 10 days and may be permitted to attend virtual classes depending on their teacher’s policies. This policy will likely change in the upcoming weeks due to the CDC’s newly updated guidance that shortens quarantines to five days. “I feel as though there’s no point staying in quarantine for 10 days and missing more school, even though the CDC suggests that five days is now enough. It adds stress for everyone and is foolish,” sophomore Jai Ahuja said.

Even with the drawback of possibly missing school, an additional incentive to report test results was put in place. Students who submitted their test results by the following Sunday would be able to continue participating in school-sponsored extracurricular activities. A negative test result, however, was not necessary to return back to school, which differed from other nearby school systems such as DC Public Schools. “I think the school did an OK job distributing rapid Covid test kits especially since other counties were able to distribute them earlier,” junior Prahlad Shelvapille said.

These incentives and long quarantines could turn out to be counterproductive due to parents falsifying results and claiming their children tested negative when they either tested positive or did not test at all. Positive test results will also be underreported due to the submission form being available in only two languages even though MCPS has the resources to translate to a handful of other languages.