By Kendall McGee | January 5, 2021 at 6:31 PM EST – Updated January 5 at 6:31 PM
ELIZABETHTOWN, N.C. (WECT) -The 28 schools participating in the state’s COVID-19 testing pilot project are operating in full force now that winter break is behind them.
The only participating school in the Cape Fear is Emereau Charter School in Bladen County.
Emereau applied for the testing program in early December and their 160 Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen test cards came in before Christmas. The school nurse can now administer the tests if a child or staff member at the school is exposed to the virus or has symptoms.
Students cannot be tested without their parent coming in to sign a written consent form. The results are passed along to the health department when the test is complete.
“It’s given me the ability to really make a difference, I feel like,” said school nurse Ashley Bryant.
The goal is to quickly identify students that could be positive for the virus so they can move forward with quarantine measures and stop more people from being exposed. The effort is already showing promise.
The very first day the kits were in use at Emereau, staff identified a positive COVID-19 case.
The child was never in the classroom, but the parent contacted the nurse to get their child tested after they showed symptoms at home. Nurse Bryant collected the nasal swab in the car pool line and gave the family results in 15 minutes.
“This is so much simpler,” said Bryant. “I would have to wait –sometimes two days before it could get a result. Sometimes it was three days. There was one case last year we waited three days and by the time that third day was here, there were so many more people exposed we had to send home whole classes.”
Emereau currently has 635 students enrolled, a third of which are fully virtual. Students in K-5 are in face-to-face learning four days a week. Students in 6-9 are operating under Plan B. The school’s executive director, Elizabeth Cole, says the pilot program is all about keeping everyone safe.
“It helps us feel safer here at school,” said Elizabeth Cole. “It gives a little bit of peace of mind that we have an advantage and can identify potential positive cases very quickly here within the building and I think it makes parents feel a little bit better about sending their children to school for face-to-face instruction.”
Nurse Bryant’s hope is that this kind of program might be available to more schools soon. State leaders shared last month that one of their goals is to open the program to more schools in the future.
“I think that it’s going to go across the state. I think that this could be done in every school with a trained person because you don’t have to be a nurse to do this test,” said Bryant.
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