School-based rapid COVID-19 testing piloted at three districts in Pierce County

Rapid antigen COVID-19 testing has been a big part of getting college and professional sports back on the field, on the court, and on the screens of fans. The same strategy of testing is now being piloted at schools in Pierce County towards the goal of resuming in-person learning.

Eatonville School District, Peninsula School District and White River School District are collaborating with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to pilot this school-based program. In the Eatonville School District, Weyerhaeuser Elementary School and Eatonville Middle School are the testing sites.

“We see this as the next step to assure that we are able to open schools in a safer manner,” said Krestin Bahr, superintendent of Eatonville School District.

Monday, after a health screening and completed consent form, Kaiya Burgess became one of the first teachers in the district to take a rapid COVID-19 test.

“I think will be really helpful to eventually reopen schools,” said Burgess. “I teach [Career and Technical Education], so it’s all hands-on. Teaching remotely has been really difficult, it’s been difficult for every teacher and every student.”

Rapid antigen COVID-19 testing is one tool towards the goal of safely getting people back in the classroom. It collects test results in a database to see what the health trends are, then helps health officials and districts decide when and how to resume in-person learning.

“As we get smarter and work together to really think about what schooling looks like in this COVID-centric environment, it gives us one more tool in the toolbox both for our staff safety as well as our student and families safety,” said Bahr.

Students and staff within the Eatonville School District can voluntarily take a quick test and get their results in 15 minutes at no charge.

“It was super quick, easy, and out the door,” said Burgess. “It’s a great opportunity. Don’t be afraid of testing, it’s not anything scary.”

The testing is made possible through a grant, approved by Pierce County Council, worth $7.8 million in federal CARES Act funds. The Washington State Department of Health said several more districts across the state are collaborating with local health departments to participate in this pilot project. Those additional school districts are slated to start testing as early as December 7th. A DOH representative said it’s possible more school districts will adopt this rapid testing once the pilot is complete.

Bahr said students and staff have been on a hybrid model for most of the fall semester. For the next three weeks, however, classes will be remote for the duration of the pilot program.

“We are trying everything that we can in order to keep things safe and to get through this healthy and together,” said Bahr.