Minnesota to expand COVID-19 testing options in schools

A woman speaks into microphones at a lecturn.
On Wednesday, Minnesota Education Commissioner Heather Mueller speaks about at-home COVID-19 tests available for students to take home from school outside of Carver Elementary School in Maplewood, Minn.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Students who experience COVID-19 symptoms at school will still be sent home, but now, state officials say they can take a rapid COVID test home with them. 

“If we can isolate and find out cases right away, not only can we protect the health of that individual child or staff member, we can keep the building in place without having to isolate the entire building and send folks home,” Gov. Tim Walz said on Wednesday. 

The state is making rapid at-home tests available to districts that request them. It’s also handing out grant money to districts that want to hire additional staff or need other help with the logistics of regular testing in schools. 

Walz said he wanted districts to use the supplies to offer more testing opportunities to students and staff. 

“We need everyone to participate in this. I need all our school buildings to participate. We know that the buildings are at the forefront of the fight, districts are leading the charge and the state is here to provide all of the guidance and supplies that we need,” Walz said. “That supply chain is there waiting — we just need to implement that and put it in. We made it clear to the federal government that they are going to have to, and they committed this week to doing so.”

A man speaks at a lecturn in front of others.
Gov. Tim Walz speaks alongside other state and school district officials about take-home COVID-19 testing for students outside of Carver Elementary School in Maplewood, Minn., on Wednesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

The North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale district has already requested rapid at-home BinaxNOW COVID-19 antigen tests and has begun using them. Kelly Ayd, the district’s health services supervisor, said students who are symptomatic are sent to the nurse’s office to be  assessed.

“Once they’ve had a conversation with a parent or guardian on the phone, they let them know, your student is presenting with these symptoms, it’s consistent with COVID, we have an opportunity to take this test, you can do it at home, you’ll get results in 15 minutes,” Ayd said. “It just removes so many of those barriers.”

Ayd said the tests have so far been well-received and popular. The district is also planning initiatives to expand other COVID-19 mitigation strategies, including the ability to send rapid tests home with students for other possibly exposed household members. 

“[We’re looking at] expanding testing for a broader part of our community, whether that means getting staff in to do more on demand testing, or vaccine events that we have hosted and will continue to host,” Ayd said. “We want to look at it across the board and look at all the different things we can do to keep our community safe, get our kids vaccinated and keep them in the building.” 

A woman stands in front of an open cabinet.
Kelly Ayd, health services supervisor for ISD 622 shows take-home COVID-19 tests available for students.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said her elementary-aged daughter has already used the rapid tests, and she wants to make sure they’re widely available to other Minnesota students.

“I think families have come to trust their schools and their school health offices, so knowing that your school nurse is saying, ‘You can use this, this is OK, I’m here as a resource if you need help.’ I think for families, that means something to them,” Flanagan said. 

Hundreds of Minnesota districts have already requested the tests as well as grant funding to help with the logistics of regular testing. But others have not yet ordered any. 

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the rapid antigen tests do give results within 15 minutes, but are less accurate than PCR tests. 

“It’s really good as ... a really quick assessment of a child with symptoms,” Malcolm said. “We need parents to use the tests appropriately. If you’ve got a positive, we do advise getting a confirming test with PCR to make sure it’s really a positive.” 

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