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As students settle back into the classroom, the Lake Oswego School District aims to keep them there with the help of optional testing.

On Thursday, Sept. 23, more than 100 community members logged into a Zoom call to learn more about the K-12 COVID-19 Student Screening Program, which will be available for Lake Oswego elementary school students next month.

Alongside representatives from Oregon Health & Science University, the Lake Oswego School District talked through the weekly COVID testing that will be available for interested students in the coming weeks.

"Testing is one of many tools we use to reduce the spread of COVID-19, along with masking, physical distancing and washing your hands," Communications Director Mary Kay Larson said in an email to families.

COVID screening process

The program will begin with elementary students and then proceed to middle and high school students in the coming weeks, according to Larson.

The program is not a legal contract or a mandated weekly commitment. Families can opt in and out of the test as they please, said Dr. Donna Hansel, chair of the Department of Pathology at OHSU. Hansel is also a parent in the LOSD.

In partnership with the Oregon Health Authority, the OHSU screening uses saliva testing.

After receiving a test kit from their schools, students are advised to spit in the tube the morning of their school's collection day, which will then be taken by courier to an in-house testing lab on OHSU's campus. Each saliva sample is analyzed and will determine if a student has genetic material of SARS-Cov-2 — the virus that causes COVID.

Families will receive a secured email or phone call detailing if the virus has been "detected," meaning the student is positive for COVID. No detection means the student does not carry the virus.

Results take an average of 48 hours. No results will be used for research, according to Hansel.

If a positive diagnosis is found, the county and OHA will be informed and reach out to families. Schools will not be notified of an infected student by OHSU, and Larson advises guardians to continue notifying the district of a student's diagnosis so that schools can conduct their contract tracing procedure to determine "close contacts."

The program will begin in early October, with the exact date yet to be determined. The district is awaiting its OHSU-assigned collection day. The collection will then take place the same day each week.

Concerns about prevention, accuracy, false positives

During the question-and-answer period, one parent inquired about false positives. Hansel said that false positives occur less than 1% of the time, and families should not be concerned.

OHSU offers PCR tests, a "gold standard" molecular test that provides the most accurate results, according to OHA. The testing has a 98% sensitivity rating (ability to detect positive case) and 99% specificity rating (ability to detect a negative case), according to Hansel.

Another spectator asked how testing is a prevention measure.

The screening is designed to detect unvaccinated students who show no symptoms, and are a risk to other students, said Hansel. However, she reminded families that although the test has high rates of detection, like other COVID prevention tools, it is not an absolute, but rather, an additional measure.

"Ultimately, it's one tool out of many to reduce the spread of COVID," Hansel said, "it's not meant to be an absolute. This is where all the other measures we talk about (masks, vaccines) ... come into play."

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