SOUTHERN COLORADO — Governor Jared Polis announced Wednesday that Colorado schools will get access to up to 1 million at-home COVID-19 tests per month as part of his roadmap to get students back into the classroom.
Colorado is one of three states with early access to the home-use BinaxNOW program. The Colorado Department of Health and Environment has contracted with a digital health provider, eMed, to provide BinaxNOW home test kits for use via a virtually guided telehealth session.
The program is intended to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools by allowing symptomatic and exposed individuals to get tested quickly and easily. It's also designed to facilitate more regular testing, especially for teachers and staff who are frequently in close contact with others as part of their jobs.
The state notified some school districts earlier this week about the program. In a letter, they said at-home testing reduces the staffing, personal protective equipment, and reporting burden on school health officials and is more convenient for educators and students. Results are available within 15 minutes of collecting a nasal swab sample.
Todd Seip with Pueblo School District 70 says the district opted into the new program.
"The tricky part about this test is that you can't just do it yourself and get the results, and then report if your positive or negative. There's a whole telehealth component involved in this where once you open the test then you have to make an appointment with the telehealth provider," said Seip.
Teachers, staff, and selected students at participating schools and their parents or guardians will be able to use a web portal to order tests, which will then be shipped directly to their homes. Testing will be conducted via a telehealth remote proctor session and the proctor will report the results to local public health and CDPHE.
Seip says districts were given a few options on how to use the rapid tests.
"We can issue a package of six to a teacher and they can do one test a week if they wanted to and report those results. We can store them in schools in our nursing offices and distribute those to students who may be symptomatic and have to go home at the end of the day," said Seip. "It's going to require parents or teachers to download an app and then whether they can get online right away or make an appointment with a telehealth provider. It's going to add some time into that," said Seip.
He says the new testing option could mean fewer quarantines for staff.
"If we had a symptomatic student that tested negative then we're not waiting two or three days for a negative test where we would have had to quarantine an entire classroom or cohort for a long period of time. That could be just a few hours while we wait or even a day or so," said Seip.
Harrison School District 2 also opting into the program and choosing to ship the tests directly to employee's homes.
"We thought it would be beneficial to have employees test at home before they arrive. So if they have a positive test, we can prevent them even coming into the building," said Christine O'Brien, Public Information Officer, Harrison School District 2.
Without knowing how many tests they'll receive, she says the district is prioritizing staff working directly with students and school-based educators. With the vaccine and this new testing option, she says they've altered their timeline for in-person learning.
"All of those together have made us more confident in moving our schedule forward. So we're getting our students back in-person a little sooner than we originally planned," said O'Brien.
The state will cover the cost of the first month of rapid tests after that districts will have to decide to continue the program and pay for it.
Health officials are working to make home BinaxNOW tests available through the end of this school year to all districts and private schools that opt into the program. Public school district leaders and leaders from charter, private, and parochial schools who are interested in participating should complete a short survey regarding their testing plans.