COVID-19 testing pilot program helping Merced school operate

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- A COVID-19 state testing pilot program has helped a North Valley school operate with a lot more confidence. Funding from the California Endowment helped make it a reality.

With parental permission, students at McSwain Elementary in Merced can get regularly tested for COVID-19.

Merced County Health Officer Dr. Salvador Sandoval said, "The test that is being done is the antigen test, which has lower sensitivity but if it's done twice a week, it's fairly good."

Staff gets tested twice a week under a pilot program rolled out at nine districts statewide.

McSwain School Superintendent Roy Mendiola said, "We can catch asymptomatic individuals before there's an opportunity for them to spread the virus on campus, so it's created a lot of peace of mind."

This year, tests revealed three employees were carrying the virus so they were sent home.

Mendiola said, "It's really demonstrating that it's a manageable way to keep kids on campus safe."

As a smaller school, McSwain has been able to bring 530 of their 820 students back to campus on alternating days.

Dr. Sandoval believed it was a good idea for parents to let their kids get tested here, especially with so many of them struggling with remote learning.

He said, "Testing is a way to allow schools to start safely opening until we can get vaccination really rolling to the degree that it needs to be."

Weaver and Planada school districts in Merced County have also been selected for the program, which Dr. Sandoval said balances benefit and risk.

Mendiola added, "It's also an opportunity for all of us to rally around a common vision of what it would look like at a safe school."

McSwain would like to bring even more students back to campus before the end of the school year but social distancing restrictions and other COVID safeguards remained in place.
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