PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland Public Schools and Oregon Health and Science University are working together to keep students in school this year.
Any PPS student, vaccinated or not, will have access to a weekly COVID-19 saliva test to either take at school or at home. OHSU is the regional testing partner and officials say they have enough capacity to serve all students in PPS schools.
The program is funded by the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education. School staff will also have access to the same screening options.
Anyone experiencing COVID symptoms will also have access to free BINAXNow rapid tests, which can yield results in about an hour.
Dr. Donna Hansel, the lead pathologist for OHSU, said the hospital has the capacity to run 8,000 to 10,000 tests a day, seven days a week. There are more than 50,000 PPS students.
“The program is rolling out with a phased approach,” said Hansel. “The emphasis originally is on unvaccinated individuals which pretty much encompasses the elementary school population but of course it’s open to anyone regardless of vaccine status.”
Hansel said in light of data from other states with similar screening options, she expects just 10% of families will opt into the program. She said testing is paramount because if you don’t know who is infected, you don’t know who to isolate and asymptomatic spread, which still happens, is essentially the beginning of an outbreak.
Hansel said the delta variant changes the game and is going to force everyone — even the very young — to be safer.
“We do know with the Delta variant that there’s a very high amount of virus that you can get in the nasal passages and the saliva,” she said. “So in that sense, it becomes even more important especially in any setting where someone is unmasked to know whether or not they’re positive.”
A workplace outbreak is defined as four or more COVID cases that must be reported to the OHA. In a school, just one case among teachers or students must be reported to the OHA.
The latest OHA outbreak report released last week showed the most cases any Oregon school had reported was two — and none were reported in PPS, the state’s largest district.
Doctors say preventing a substantial outbreak in any school comes down to tracking.