The Baltimore City school system will begin weekly, voluntary testing of its staff and students for COVID-19 in March, even when they are not showing symptoms and are unaware of any exposure to the virus.
The new testing would mean Baltimore City will offer some of the most comprehensive screening among Baltimore-area school districts. The city is already administering tests to those who come to school with symptoms. The tests are collected by a University of Maryland Medical Center mobile lab that visits schools to pick up the kits.
Under the latest screening plan, students and staff will test themselves using PCR tests, which are considered the gold standard for COVID-19 testing. Elementary and middle school students will use a short swab in the inside edge of their noses. All the tests will be pooled according to their classrooms, and processed by a company. The results for the pool will be given to city schools. If the pool test is positive, all the students and staff will be notified and will have to quarantine. Families will be invited to come back for an individual test.
High school students and staff will give themselves a saliva-based test. Test tubes with the samples will be sent to a mobile lab funded by American University and located at and operated by Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.
The test is completed in minutes at the schools and results come within eight hours through a phone app that will allow parents and staff to get the results. Details about the screening will be available on a website that launches Wednesday.
The city school board approved a $5.7 million contract with Ginkgo Bioworks Inc. for the pool tests for elementary and middle schools and a $9.5 million contract with ShieldT3 to process the saliva tests.
“The addition of no-symptom COVID-19 screenings to our comprehensive protocols and mitigation strategies gives us another layer of protection that students and staff deserve,” said schools chief Sonja Santelises.