Fifteen minute testing failure

With more and more people testing positive for Omicron, there has been increasing amounts of confusion over which type of test should be used, causing ineffective containment of those infected with COVID-19 in schools.

There are two main tests that can determine if an individual has COVID-19: polymerase chain reaction and at-home test kits. Although PCR tests take much more time for the results to process, they are nearly 100 percent accurate. At-home test kits, which are far more popular and produce results in 15 minutes, hold an accuracy of 79 percent, giving students a false sense of security. To prevent this, the school should mandate the use of PCR tests.

The biggest problem right now with these tests is that students are often choosing the wrong tests for their condition, causing inaccurate results. If students are asymptomatic but found within close contact with someone with COVID-19, they are recommended by doctors to take a PCR test. If a student shows symptoms of COVID-19 by experiencing a cough, sore throat, fever or headache, they are recommended to take the at-home antigen test, since it’s much more accurate when symptoms are visible and comes much faster.

Without a school mandate, most students will continue using at-home test kits, increasing the possibility of them going to school with COVID-19. To put it simply, there is no way to ensure that students on campus are undoubtedly negative for COVID-19, thereby threatening the safety of others.

Similarly, students who test positive for COVID-19 with a PCR test could easily use an at-home test kit to test negative and go back to school. To combat these issues, the school should establish guidelines demanding only PCR tests to be used for positive-testing students to come back to school. Without proof of these tests, students should be prevented from coming to school.

Alternatively, if PCR tests require too much time and effort, at-home test kits have been proven to be effective if taken several times over the span of a few days. According to a recent study by The Journal of Infectious Diseases, when tested every three days with an at-home test kit, 98 percent of infections were successfully identified, which is on par with PCR tests. Thus, the school could also mandate students to take pictures of the results of at-home test kits on several different dates to prove they don’t have COVID-19.

At-home test kits have been extremely useful as a device to quickly test if one has COVID-19. However, to fully curb the effects of the variant and ensure the safety of students, the school must establish stricter standards for allowing students to attend school.