Orange County working to create in-school coronavirus testing program

District rolls out after-school testing plan Monday

Residents of Bergschenhoek, Netherlands, take part in a mass test of all of the municipality's 62,000 residents starting Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, following a cluster of COVID-19 cases at an elementary school, including about 30 cases of the British coronavirus variant. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong) (Peter Dejong, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – As Orange County is putting its after-school coronavirus testing program to the test on Monday, officials said they’re also hoping to have an in-school plan rolled out soon.

During a coronavirus briefing Monday morning, Dr. Raul Pino, with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, said testing for the virus at schools is part of the larger effort to keep coronavirus out of the classroom.

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The doctor said this strategy will primarily be for anyone who is showing symptoms during school hours and is meant to target symptomatic people.

“The idea beyond that testing is that we can quickly identify anyone who may have developed symptoms,” he said. “And we want to rapidly exclude this individual from the classroom or the environment.”

Pino said schools would utilize rapid tests to quickly confirm cases. However, Pino said there are two hurdles that health department officials are trying to overcome.

“Now, it is important to know that we need (a) parental consent to test any student,” he said.

As county leaders work to fine-tune this plan, they are taking a careful approach in rolling out a parental consent form that allows the health department and the district to submit students to testing.

In Florida, minors must present a consent form and be tested with a parent or guardian.

The state already provides a consent form for children, but for a testing program of this magnitude, Pino said the form will have to be adjusted to include expanded authorization for an extended period of time.

When asked, he added that there would be an option for parents to opt their child out of the in-school testing program and not authorize coronavirus testing during school hours.

The key to rolling out this program is funding, the ultimate hurdle, Pino said.

“In-school testing has not started. That will be if we get additional resources, which we are expecting,” Pino said. Once the county gets the resources, Pino said the next steps would be to consult with the state health department to roll out the plan.

He emphasized the after-school coronavirus testing program will also play an important role in stopping the spread of the virus.

“As we said before, the child is just a vector between the school and in their home,” Pino said. “It’s the same environment, so we are all one community.”

Students in Orange County started the new school last Tuesday. Since then, 396 cases of COVID-19 have been reported to the district, a majority of them in students, according to its coronavirus dashboard.

Starting Monday, Orange County Public Schools will have weekly COVID-19 testing at seven different locations.

The district is partnering with the Florida Department of Health to provide COVID-19 testing at schools from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.

“The intention is to give the visibility for parents that may be at work, that don’t have those resources, that cannot take a day off to come and get tested as a family unit,” Pino said.

Pino said the sites were strategically selected to have coronavirus testing within each commissioner’s district in the county.

“Each of the board member district will have one day a week and we will be at the same location every day of the week,” he said. “So this Monday, or every single Monday, we will be at Catalina Elementary School.”

The doctor said the weekdays are primarily for students and their families, however, community members could head to one of these schools during the weekend.

“The idea is also to accelerate testing for schools so that we can prevent infections in school,” he said.

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