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New Orleans public schools suspend mobile testing due to concerns over ‘false negatives’ | Coronavirus

Written by Mamie M. Arndt

After concerns were raised about the potential for false negative results, NOLA Public schools has suspended the use of coronavirus tests that were part of the school district’s mobile testing program.

The district said Friday that the test kit, provided through the Louisiana Department of Health’s partnership with Curative, Inc., “is under review following a recent safety communication” from the Federal Drug Administration.

The Health Department is now completing a review of the test, which was part of a three-van, roving system the school district started in mid-January as part of a new, large-scale testing strategy. All mobile sites are being suspended, officials confirmed.

The school district did not say how many of the tests had been administered.

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“Out of an abundance of caution, NOLA-PS immediately suspended the use of this test until the LDH can complete its review,” officials said in a news release.

The Curative SARS-Cov-2 Assay is a real-time PCR test used to detect the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the FDA warning, which was issued Jan. 4. 

Curative, a Southern California company established in 2020, specifically markets large-scale coronavirus testing across the U.S.

The FDA warning says tests should only be given to symptomatic people, and only under the supervision of health care workers, but several health departments had been offering the Curative tests to the general public, according to multiple news reports from around the country.

School district officials said they notified schools that had access to this test as part of the new mobile testing program that began last week.

The district’s strategy is ultimately aimed at stopping the virus’ spread by getting regular tests for as many of the district’s nearly 45,000 students as possible, along with the teachers and staff employed by 76 public schools across the city.

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As part of the strategy, the district earlier this month said it planned to send three mobile units to dozens of schools to conduct on-site, asymptomatic PCR testing to any children or families on a recurring basis.

One of the units was being deployed in partnership with the Health Department, officials said. The other two were part of separate grant-funded initiatives, including from the Rockefeller Foundation. It wasn’t immediately clear which company those two units planned on using for their PCR tests.

The plan was for each of the vans to park in front of two campuses every school day, and visit participating campuses about once every two weeks. Families and community members would have access to the Health Department van, in particular, even if they aren’t part of the school’s community. 

By mid-January, about 45 campuses had signed up, according to Dina Hasiotis, the chief school support and improvement officer for NOLA Public Schools.

In the wake of sharply rising case numbers, the school district earlier this month closed classrooms and required nearly all students to continue their schooling remotely. It isn’t clear at this point when in-person schooling will resume.

When all students are able to return to at least some form of in-person learning, many will also have access to rapid antigen tests that more than 30 campuses have signed up for. Those will be available to symptomatic students and staff, and those who had come into close contact with someone who tested positive, Hasiotis said.

The new testing had bolstered a system already in place for public students and staff via appointments at Children’s Hospital and other health partners, including the city’s various community testing sites.

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“As we have since the beginning of the pandemic, we encourage anyone who is concerned about their health to seek out testing with our established hospital partners or at the City’s community sites, which can be found at Testing — NOLA Ready,” officials said.

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Mamie M. Arndt

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