San Mateo Co. students, staff participating in rapid COVID-19 testing pilot program

SAN MATEO, Calif. (KGO) -- Increased COVID-19 testing is part of the Biden administration's strategy for reopening schools with priority given to underserved communities. Three counties in California are participating in an eight-week pilot program that would administer rapid tests to students and staff with results in 15 minutes.

For five-year-old, Nisi Vaca, testing for the coronavirus has become part of her safety routine at school. Twice a week, with the guidance of a testing site coordinator, she knows how to gently insert a swab in both nostrils to test for the virus.

"The test, it is a nasal swab. But it is not the swab that goes up into your brain, which honestly I saw a video and it made me anxious," explained Anne Roy, Strategic Pandemic Response Coordinator for the Ravenswood City School District.

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"It feels like it tickles, then when I put it on this side, it ticked again," said little Nisi Vaca.

Similar to a pregnancy test, the results show up within 15 minutes.

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"The two times-a-week is to catch any infections that are coming in before they have a chance to spread," added Roy.

There are three counties in California that are part of this pilot program: Los Angeles, Merced and San Mateo.

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San Mateo County has three school districts participating, Redwood City School District, Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto and La Honda-Pescadero Unified.

The idea is to eventually make it accessible to other school districts in California.

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"So we think we can make those school buildings as safe as conceivably possible which will allow teachers to come back confidently and not be worried about contracting a disease that could theoretically kill them," said Dr. Anthony Iton, Senior Vice President of the California Endowment, an organization that brings health care to underserved communities. They and other partners are funding the program at a cost of 2.4 million dollars.

So if the kids can be tested frequently, the expectation is that the number of cases in those communities is likely to eventually go down.

"We want to emphasize the masks, we want to emphasize the social distancing and that test let's us know if we are doing what we need to do to protect ourselves," said Gina Sudaria, Superintendent of the Ravenswood City School District.

A total of 300 kids in that district alone will continue to be tested.

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