LOS ANGELES, March 2, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The California Endowment (TCE) has launched Safely Opening Schools (SOS), an on-site COVID-19 screening program in 10 California school districts in communities hardest hit by the pandemic. This includes Fresno Unified, the third largest school district in California. The 8 week pilot screens all students, teachers, and staff for COVID-19 twice a week with a FDA-approved rapid antigen test, which produces highly accurate results within 15 minutes without medical professionals. By reducing the risk of transmission, SOS offers an effective model for schools to reopen safely during the pandemic.
Frequent COVID testing of all students and staff is an affordable and effective strategy to safely reopen schools.
In contrast to private schools that reopened last fall, public schools across California have not resumed in-person due to lack of safe and effective plans. Unable to attend school for almost a year, students have fallen behind, especially in African American and Latino communities and school districts hardest hit by COVID-19. Furthermore, students access health and other social services at school, making reopening an urgent issue of equity.
"We know too well that educational inequities dramatically impact our children's futures. Those inequities have clearly widened the educational gap for black and brown children as a result of distance learning," said Tony Iton, MD, Senior Vice President of Programs at TCE. "Frequent and extensive COVID testing of all students and staff is an available, affordable, and effective strategy. It reassures parents that their children are in a safe environment and gets our students back on their educational trajectory."
Participating districts include San Mateo County (Ravenswood, Redwood City, La Honda-Pescadero), Merced County (Planada, Weaver, McSwain), Los Angeles County (Compton, Pomona, Rosemeade), and Fresno Unified.
Merced County has a large immigrant population that work in industries deemed essential, forcing parents to choose between remotely educating their young children at home or making a living. McSwain began on-site testing in January with encouraging preliminary results, bringing 530 of their 820 students back to campus. When tests revealed three employees carrying the virus, they were quarantined and the school community was kept virus free.
"We can catch asymptomatic individuals before there's an opportunity for them to spread the virus on campus, so it's created a lot of peace of mind," said McSwain School Superintendent Roy Mendiola, "it's really demonstrating a manageable way to keep kids on campus safe."
Dr. Iton commented, "It is remarkable to see a small rural school such as McSwain lead the way for other larger schools in California, and in the nation, to reopen safely."
The California Endowment, a private, statewide health foundation, was established in 1996 to expand access to quality health care for underserved individuals and communities, and to promote fundamental affordable improvements in the health status of all Californians. The Endowment challenges the conventional wisdom that medical settings and individual choices are solely responsible for people's health. At its core, The Endowment believes that health happens in neighborhoods, schools, and with prevention.
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SOURCE The California Endowment