Education ministry proposes changes to coronavirus testing in schools

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An empty classroom (photo is illustrative).
An empty classroom (photo is illustrative). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna (Reform) is set to make a proposal to change coronavirus testing in schools at Tuesday's government sitting, aiming to extend testing to students under the age of 12 and to implement "lollipop" PCR-tests instead of rapid tests.

A simplified quarantine would mean that a negative rapid test would allow unvaccinated students that are deemed close contacts to keep studying in the schoolhouse. However, since rapid tests can produce a false negative, the education ministry wants to use PCR-tests instead.

"Experience shows that people are deemed close contacts two or three days after their initial contact. A PCR-test should show us with sufficient sensitivity whether a person is infectious or not," said ministry adviser Mario Kadastik.

The adviser said students under the age of 12 must also be tested to trace infection chains. The ministry hopes to make testing more comfortable.

"If we are able to do it with the so-called lollipop method - in effect, it is like sucking on a tampon. It is not putting a stick deep into someone's nasal cavity. I do not believe anyone would be against it, but we do not know for sure. It is not invasive, at least. The children could do this test by themselves. The samples would just be collected and sent to Synlab or somewhere else for testing. This would significantly reduce the burden, since testing would not have to be conducted by medics," Kadastik said.

A student that has been deemed a close contact would have to wait at home until their PCR-test is checked.

Currently, everyone in the infected student's classroom is considered a close contact, but the ministry hopes to change that, as well. "In practice, close contact are mostly bench partners and the first row in case of teachers. We do not have any reason to send 100-200 students to isolate as close contacts if it is the immediate vicinity of the infected person," the ministry adviser said.

Kadastik emphasized that these are still just proposals the government is set to discuss during Tuesday's sitting.

Education minister: We want to allow children to go to school

Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna (Reform) told ERR on Tuesday morning that testing for all unvaccinated close contacts is quite burdensome for schools.

Therefore, the government will make a proposal for close contacts to go through PCR-testing right away and if it produces a negative result, the student can go back to studying in the schoolhouse. Kersna said rapid testing put a heavy burden on schools.

In addition, the minister wants to harmonize rules implemented in schools and hobby education. "We are trying to make it so children can test in hobby education and go back to school with a negative result. We will make it so all healthy students can go to school. This system would allow children deemed close contacts in sports training to still go to school if they have given a negative result," Kersna said.

The ministry would also like to change the definition of close contacts. In Estonia, the entire class is deemed close contacts if one student is diagnosed with the coronavirus, Scandinavian countries only consider people a couple of meters away from the infected person for 15 minutes close contacts, the minister said. Only infected children stay home in those countries and close contacts are not even mapped too specifically, Kersna added.

Still, testing in schools has worked rather effectively. In September, 4 percent of close contacts tested in schools gave a positive coronavirus test, that number increased to 6 percent in October. "Considering that general testing gets positive cases on 16 percent of the tests, there are fewer people in school environments testing positive," Kersna said.

The minister said teachers can now get booster doses if six months have passed from the completion of their initial vaccination process.

The minister also said there are coronavirus outbreaks in 103 Estonian schools, which means there are at least five infected people in the school. Generally, two people in a school outbreak are teachers.

Liina Kersna. Source: Riigikantselei


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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