Original Article written by Reema Amin for Chalkbeat.
Health care access is a major concern in the Claremont neighborhood of the Bronx, where coronavirus positivity rates have outpaced citywide numbers. Nearly three-quarters of the neighborhood’s elementary school, P.S. 55, have opted to learn from home full-time, with just 150 students attending in-person. Many parents believed they would be safer at home than at school in a neighborhood that was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, said Luis Torres, the school’s principal. But Torres is hoping a new rapid coronavirus testing option at his school will quell some anxiety and offer an extra layer of protection for students, families, and staff. His school is one of more than 90 elementary, middle, and high schools in the Bronx that will receive rapid COVID-19 diagnostic testing kits through a partnership with Montefiore Medical Center, on top of in-school testing already required weekly by the city. “It feels safer doing it within the school” where there are no long lines or waiting rooms, Torres said. “It would give us a greater sense of security knowing where the cases are, if there are cases in the building or not. It would make people feel a little bit more safer.”
The rapid tests at Montefiore’s 31 partner campuses will be given to children who are attending in person classes and feel sick during the school day. Medical professionals from the school-based health clinic (SBHC) will administer the tests and results are expected within 40 minutes. Montefiore officials already use these specific testing kits in their hospitals, said Dr. Michele St. Louis, director of the medical division for Montefiore’s School Health Program. Torres said that such on-site testing also removes barriers, such as travel and time constraints, that can be a burden for many P.S. 55 students, nearly all of whom are from low-income families. Importantly, Montefiore officials said, these test allow families with sick children to not have to find a testing site or begin quarantining out of precaution until they were tested somewhere else. That also cuts the waiting time for school officials who have to contact the city’s Situation Room, which is the response team charged with investigating coronavirus cases at schools and determining building closures. Education department officials said sponsors of school-based health clinics must apply to the state to perform tests in schools. Along with Montefiore, others including NYU/Langone, Northwell/LIJ, and Sinai High School Program have also received state approval to be testing providers.
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