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Michigan launches COVID testing program in schools, starting with Charlotte

A person holds an antigen test for COVID19. Those are used to determine if someone is infected.
Mika Baumeister

As the fourth surge of COVID-19 intensifies across Michigan, public health officials are trying to mitigate the spread through testing. 

The state's Chief Medical Executive Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian says the number of positive COVID cases are going up at a concerning rate.

"The surge started in 5- to 18-year-olds, [at the time] it was a large group of unvaccinated people who were going back to school," she said. "So, we saw a lot of transmission in school-aged children, that's now spread to other age groups."

An initiative providing free coronavirus tests to school-aged children, their families and teachers launched this week and is being piloted in Charlotte.

Benton Harbor Area Schools and Battle Creek Public Schools will be added to the pilot after Thanksgiving.

Bagdasarian says the program is completely voluntary for families. 

"So, kids and parents who are interested will get a testing kit to take home," she said. "And then it's not only for the child themselves, it's for really anyone in that household to use the test if they are symptomatic or if they feel that they've been exposed."

The initiative will provide each student who is registered two nasal swab COVID testing kits. These kits do not involve pushing the nasal swab all the way to the top of the cavity, only around each nostril. Bagdasarian says these are about 70% effective at detecting the virus.

"They're not good at picking up people, perhaps who are very, very early in their disease course or later in their disease course," she explained. "But they're great at picking up people who are actively shedding large amounts of virus, which is very helpful when we're trying to break chains of transmission in places like schools."

Mandy Stewart, the superintendent of Charlotte Public Schools, says she's hoping the program helps keep kids in school through the holiday season.

"I know that people want to get together for the holidays and see families and being able to have the confidence knowing that you have negative testing before you see your elderly family. [It] might be a nice way to feel more confident and be more comfortable at holiday gatherings."

Earlier this fall, the district implemented a testing plan for students and staff in an effort to prevent COVID outbreaks in the district.

"So, we test five days a week, so that people can have the option of taking a test. We have launched that locally, so that we have onsite testing [and] to again get more kids back in school," she said.

As of Friday, Michigan reported 17,980 new cases of COVID-19—an average of 8,990 cases over the past two days.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community.
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