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Coordinating Antigen Testing Program in Local Schools


Last updated 2/4/2021 at 11:30am

With the sad reality that many of our students in Borrego Springs are “missing” a year of education due to the difficulty of on-line learning and the disparity in access to technology, the local Borrego Springs COVID-19 Task Force has joined forces with the San Diego County Department of Public Health to pilot a program of antigen testing (surveillance testing) in our schools. This program holds the possibility of allowing our schools to remain open while those students/staff testing positive for COVID-19 will be removed quickly allowing others to continue their teaching and learning in the classroom.

Our schools, elementary, middle and high, began the 2020 – 21 year with six weeks of online learning only, followed by six weeks of a “hybrid” learning model where Group A attended in person two days a week and Group B the other two days.

Then on December 1, BSUSD opened its schools to all students four days a week. Due to a post-Thanksgiving surge of the virus, BSUSD witnessed its first cases in the school and proactively returned to online learning only and has remained so.

The Board of Trustees voted last week to reopen all schools on Tuesday Jan. 19, following the hybrid model of Groups A and B. With dozens of safety precautions in their “tool box”, the antigen testing is yet another safety protocol that holds great promise for keeping our staff and students healthy and present in the classroom.

How it works is this: BSUSD must first register as a federally and state recognized laboratory and apply for a CLIA (Clinical Lab Improvement Amendment) exemption to be a functioning laboratory. This exemption is something the state is allowing in its effort to help schools establish robust surveillance testing to support in-person learning. Superintendent Mark Stevens and Principals Victoria Baay and Sherrilynn Polanco are working on the necessary lab applications now.

When the necessary pre-work is approved, the testing pilot will ramp up slowly, starting with just a few adults being tested weekly, then more adults and eventually all students (with parent approval). It is possible that all adults and all students could be tested even twice a week as the program rolls out.

Adults and older students will be able to self-swab their cavities. Younger students will be serviced by the School Nurse, Virginia Miller, or the Health Aide, Maria Duarte, both in full PPE. These specimens will then be processed on site by a set of trained workers and after 15 – 30 minutes the results will be read by the Nurse or Health Aide. The school secretaries will then input the results into the software system which helps them track the results. All of the above mentioned workers were trained last week by Dr. John Malone.

Folks who initially come up as positive via the antigen test will immediately take a PCR test and be excluded from campus until the PCR test confirms or overturns the results. The County will arrange to transfer the PCR test to their labs and results should be available in a timely manner. A positive PCR test will be reported to the County and that individual will continue to isolate for the remainder of their 10-day period. A negative PCR test will clear the individual from having COVID-19, which will allow them to return to work or class relatively quickly.

This promising looking project for keeping schools open and students learning with in-person teaching is only the second in San Diego County after Coronado USD. It is the result of much collaboration between the Borrego Springs COVID-19 Task Force, the County Department of Public Health, (specifically Dr. Sayone Thihalolipavan, Dr. John Malone and Dr. Gregg Lichtenstein) as well as the Borrego Springs Unified School District.

Local volunteers with expertise and experience in epidemiology, healthcare, leading civic organizations and managing businesses should contact the COVID-19 Task Force at Assistance will be needed in rolling out this ambitious and exciting program.

– Borrego Springs COVID-19 Task Force

Supported by the Borrego Valley Endowment Fund

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