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Using submitted saliva samples, students can be tested weekly before symptoms present

SCREENSHOT - A student at Whitman Elementary School in Portland drops off a saliva sample for COVID-19 testing. Portland Public Schools announced on Oct. 1 that it will now start offering weekly COVID-19 screening for students as an early detection system.Portland Public Schools students will soon have weekly COVID-19 screening tests available to them.

The district announced Friday, Oct. 1 that Whitman Elementary School was the first site to roll out a testing program using saliva samples submitted by students. The testing program is expected to be available across all PPS school sites by mid-October.

The screening program provides early detection of COVID-19, even if a person has no symptoms.

An announcement Friday said school district leaders have been "working diligently" with Oregon Health & Science University, the Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority to implement the screen-testing program.

Hassan Dornayi is an area senior director with PPS.

"This is one of the ways we help to keep our students and staff safe," Dornayi said. "It's a really important and valuable way that we're able to layer protection for our students and layer protection for our staff and keep everybody safe and keep schools open."

How does it work?

A video shared by the district indicates it's best to collect saliva samples first thing in the morning, before eating or drinking anything. Each test kit comes with a small funnel for spitting into a tube. The tube is then labeled, sealed, secured in a bag, and dropped off at a drop box site at each school campus.

"Once we return the test kits … OHSU takes them to their lab, they provide the positive or negative case to the family," Brenda Martinek, chief of student support services for PPS, said. "If it is a positive case, they call the family directly and then we're asking families to contact us directly. OHSU also then sends that information to the county and the county will alert us if there is a positive case and then we will start our protocol and quarantining process."

Martinek said the screening will soon be utilized in 38 schools across the district.

The rollout of early detection screening comes roughly a month into the new school year, as COVID-19 testing locations and availability have been scarce across Portland.

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