Many Palm Beach County parents not consenting to rapid COVID-19 tests, official says

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Fox 29 | by Stephanie Suskind | December 17, 2020

WFLX is taking a deeper look into the rapid COVID-19 testing happening inside Palm Beach County schools.

The School District of Palm Beach County rolled out BinaxNOW rapid testing right after Thanksgiving break, but officials said it’s been off to a slow start.

Before any student can receive a COVID-19 rapid test on a school campus, there is a two-step consent process that parents must go through. But health leaders told WFLX that permission is proving difficult to get.

“Consents at the present time are kind of barriers to performing those tests, so we definitely would like to see more parents sign consents,” said Dr. Belma Andrić, the chief medical officer and vice president and executive director of clinic services for the Health Care District of Palm Beach County.

Health Care District nurses are currently on school campuses screening students for COVID-19 symptoms and performing rapid tests if those students meet the criteria.

But Andrić said parents have been hesitant to give permission.

“I think it’s just a matter of time and understanding of importance of the test,” Andrić said.

Andrić said she wants parents to know the role of rapid test. It’s used as a screening tool that’s highly sensitive and accurate during the first seven days of infection.

“If you perform this test on a symptomatic child in the health room and the child is positive, that means the child can transmit illness,” Andrić said.

Andrić said that from Nov. 30 to Dec. 14, nurses performed 180 rapid COVID-19 tests on Palm Beach County students with three coming back positive, as well as 60 rapid tests on teachers with five positives.

“We see as our main role to prevent transmission to other children,” Andrić said.

She said getting the results within 15 minutes on school campuses helps contact tracing efforts start immediately.

“Will definitely help schools, help principals doing the contact tracing in schools and help not isolating, maybe, unnecessary children,” Andrić said. “Because memory is very fresh. Who was sitting for lunch? Who was sitting on a bus? Who was sitting in a classroom?”

It’s another piece of the puzzle in trying to keep schools safe.

“Having that test in our toolbox definitely reassures our community that we did anything reasonable to have a decent school year,” Andrić said.

The doctor said more younger students are receiving the rapid tests as elementary schools in Palm Beach County currently have more students on campus.

As far as other area school districts, St. Lucie County just rolled out rapid COVID-19 testing this week. Martin, Indian River and Okeechobee counties have all opted out of rapid COVID-19 testing on school campuses.

Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy and Assistant Superintendent of Choice and Innovation Jay Boggess spoke about the rapid testing during a Facebook Live question-and-answer session this week.

Fennoy said the the testing is a way to give parents and schools piece of mind with the ability to differentiate between COVID-19 and a common cold very quickly. He said based on the community and county partnerships, it was a “no-brainer” to institute rapid testing in schools.

Boggess also said the goal is not to turn schools into the FITTEAM Ballpark of The Palm Beaches testing site. He said if students are not feeling well, they should be staying home.