Rapid COVID tests rolled out to schools

Following trials of Rapid Antigen Home Testing (RAHT) at schools in Albury and Newcastle in November (including Newcastle Grammar School), the NSW Government has started distributing the kits.

If unvaccinated primary students in NSW have been exposed to a case of COVID-19, they will only have to isolate for seven days if they return a negative Rapid Antigen Test at the end of that time.

The government will supply the tests to schools where there has been a positive case, focusing on primary schools where students are too young to get vaccinated.

Parents administer the tests at home and send the result to the school, allowing quarantine time to be reduced.

Unvaccinated students who are close contacts of a positive case will also be able to reduce their isolation time by using the kits daily.

“I want to see disruption to our students’ education from COVID reduce, while still keeping schools safe places to learn. This requires us to deploy every tool available to balance the risk,” NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said.

“People with a positive result would need to follow up with a regular (PCR) test at a NSW Health testing centre and those who test negative will go on with their normal day-to-day routines assured that they are not infected or at risk of spreading the virus.”

The IEU knows that closing schools is frustrating – for staff, for students, for parents, and welcomes this testing as a way of minimising disruption to teaching and learning.

“However, we are aware that each COVID case creates a potential workload for staff as NSW Health has largely delegated contact tracing to schools,” said IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Acting Secretary Carol Matthews.

“There is also a workload associated with rapid antigen testing. Staff must be given paid time to monitor the tests along with all the other tasks involved should there be an outbreak in a school.”

Speaking to the Newcastle Morning Herald on 9 October, Newcastle Grammar School Director of Strategy and Performance Philip Fielden said the school was keen to participate in the trials. “We didn’t have to think too long about it, we’re well aware of the harmful impact of COVID on schools.”

He said 18 teachers were participating in the tests, with participants completing an online survey.

Mitchell said: “This is about living with a virus and getting back to normal life while ensuring the community is confident in their safety on school sites.

“Our best line of defence against this pandemic remains vaccinations, and until all students are eligible for one we must continue using measures like RAHT kits to keep schools safe.”