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 Monarch School Testing Supports Return to Campus

students in hallway at Monarch SchoolTo ensure the health and safety of its students and families, and continued operations, Monarch School is utilizing BinaxNow rapid antigen testing to screen students and staff for COVID-19.

Monarch School is a collaborative effort between the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) and the Monarch School Project that serve students experiencing homelessness. 

The results of the rapid test are available in approximately 15 to 30 minutes, which allows the school to keep any individual who tests positive from coming onto campus and potentially spreading the virus. Any person who tests positive is referred to a nearby clinic for a confirmatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

“The advantage to this type of testing is that results are returned very quickly and a positive case can be isolated and referred for further testing,” said SDCOE School Nursing Coordinator Corinne McCarthy. “In the case of a PCR test, the results take 24 to 72 hours so a person could be on campus and be infectious while awaiting those results. The rapid antigen test can prevent that from happening and helps the school remain open and operating safely for students and staff.”

Antigen testing is another piece of a layered mitigation strategy available to school officials. Wearing face coverings, physical distancing, and hand washing are also being used on campus to mitigate any potential spread of COVID-19.

Like most schools whose facilities had been closed, Monarch School leadership was anxious to serve students in person again so they began researching testing options back in October, including PCR testing. The school and the Monarch School Project worked with SDCOE, which connected them with the County of San Diego to get antigen testing at no cost.

“The idea of testing had always been at the forefront,” said Monarch School Principal Michael Paredes. “Our community has been hit pretty hard by this [pandemic].”

The school analyzed adjusted case rates by ZIP code in March, overlaid it with their student enrollment data and where their students and families were concentrated, and found despite improving numbers across the region, their students still lived in high-infection areas of the county. 

“Since Day 1, safety and COVID-19 prevention has been a matter of life and death,” said KishaLynn Elliott, vice president, operations and evaluation for the Monarch Project. “For me, the ability to determine regularly and immediately and with dignity what the COVID-19 status is of our students coming onto this campus for learning gets us really far down the road of health equity.”

There are currently 284 students enrolled at Monarch School, and approximately 100 returned to campus the week of April 5 with more gradually coming in throughout the month. Students with parental consent are tested weekly, and parents who accompany younger children onto campus can also be tested. Weekly staff testing is done on a voluntary basis.

When the program began in mid-April, one county doctor and SDCOE nurses trained Monarch School staff to administer the antigen test since a medical or nursing degree is not required to do this. SDCOE nurses McCarthy, Ellyson Slater-Kobetsky, and Susana Whitaker are assigned to the program on a rotating basis to monitor quality control and provide assistance when needed.