The government hopes that implementing new “rapid-fire” lateral flow testing methods in schools will allow them to reopen sooner, in a safer manner.
Lateral flow testing is one of the newest tools being used by schools across the country in the ongoing fight against COVID-19. These tests allow for results to be returned within 30 minutes and will play a key role in reducing the transmission rates of coronavirus within the student population. Lateral flow tests can even detect COVID-19 in asymptomatic people, allowing those who test positive to be quickly isolated.
UK schools in the fight against COVID-19
Many have accused secondary schools in particular of becoming “breeding grounds” for the virus as students could potentially go on to unknowingly infect more vulnerable family members at home. The proposed lateral flow testing system will provide students and teaching staff alike with regular updates on their condition, hopefully eliminating this concern.
Teresa Doyle, the business manager at Douay Martyrs Catholic Secondary School, oversaw the setup of the lateral flow test site on her school’s campus in preparation for the eventual return of pupils. Mrs Doyle spoke about the need for this new testing centre as she said: “As a secondary school, we were asked to set up a lateral flow test site to enable staff and pupils to be tested on campus.
“The [Department for Education] wanted us to set up the test site so that we could identify asymptomatic students and staff who could potentially be carrying COVID-19 without knowing it.”
When asked about the safety benefits this new testing system could bring to schools, Mrs Doyle explained: “Having onsite lateral flow testing capabilities allows staff and pupils to get results quickly, and where necessary allow people with positive results and no symptoms to self-isolate – restricting the spread of the virus.
“Lateral flow testing is an additional process to support regular testing in the fight against COVID-19 and allows the school to hopefully reopen safely.”
Quick and convenient testing
Mrs Doyle gave a detailed description of how exactly the new tests worked as she added: “The process involves staff and students self-testing by using a swab to take a sample from either side of their tonsils as well as from one of their nostrils. It is extremely quick and easy.
“The collected sample then goes into a pre-prepared formula, and the trained onsite processor will extract everything from the swab into the lateral flow test device.
“This is then processed for 20 to 30 minutes, which then identifies if someone has a negative, positive or invalid test result. These results are then entered into the NHS system.
“Staff are offered the opportunity to be tested twice a week, with a minimum of a three-day window between each test. Students are also offered two tests on their return to school, within the same three-day minimum timeframe.”
A “COVID-secure” campus
There has been a growing concern from many parents who are worried about how protected their children will be once on school grounds. Due to this, multiple safeguards will now need to be in place to ensure that pupils can safely return to their respective campuses again.
Mrs Doyle described some of the additional precautionary measures the school has implemented to make the site secure as she said: “We take every reasonable effort to ensure that the school site is safe.
“Some of the new measures include increased cleaning of all surfaces across all of the school campuses, ensuring that we are maintaining social distancing, following a very specific risk assessment, ensuring that our students remain in year group bubbles and that our staff are also in bubbles across the school.
“Handwashing and hand sanitising stations have also been set up at regular intervals across the school campuses. Furthermore, face masks are required to be worn across all common areas, unless you have a medical exemption.”
Lateral flow testing sites
When will students return to the classroom?
Boris Johnson, speaking earlier this week in the House of Commons, told MPs of his plans to reopen schools. He said that the government is aiming to have all students back in classrooms by 8th March, though there is no guarantee that all schools will reopen before the Easter Holiday.
Going forward, it is reported that the government will be placing a heavy reliance on the lateral flow testing programme in a bid to try and reopen schools as soon as possible.
To maintain an adequate level of protection for all students, the Department for Education (DfE) has been busy issuing guidance on safety measures to all schools nationwide. In addition to this, the DfE has also outlined how they expected schools to structure and maintain their testing procedures. The full government-backed advice offered to all educational institutions can be accessed by clicking here.
As it currently stands, students are expected back next month where they will undergo multiple tests before resuming traditional face-to-face lessons as normal.