Schools now in charge of determining close contacts
While the close contacts of an infected person used to be determined by the Health Board, testing of children in schools now places the obligation on the latter. The Ministry of Education and Research finds that classmates of those who test positive on Monday should not be counted as such.
The ministry has received no reports of problems with testing in schools, with more detailed feedback expected at the end of the month. All schools in Estonia must test students for the coronavirus three times a week using rapid tests starting today. The practice has been successfully used in many European countries to keep schools from closing.
"We have information from a couple of classes in a few schools. No problems have been reported. We need to count on there being positive test results today. However, it is a good thing as those children would otherwise have gone to and stayed in class. I'm sure we will be breaking chains of infection by testing students," Mario Kadastik, scientific adviser for the ministry, said.
While the close contacts of an infected person used to be determined by the Health Board, testing of children in schools now places the obligation on the latter. Kadastik admitted that the results could depend on schools' ability to interpret them.
"Classmates should not be counted as close contacts based on the first test of the week. Tests administered on Wednesday and Friday, for example, are done after the children have been together for a few days, meaning it is a different situation then," Kadastik explained.
Because the ministry put together the logistics of testing before some local governments announced decision to put municipal school students on remote learning, all schools have been sent test kits. Kadastik said that schools could forward tests to children studying from home to identify possible cases of infection there.
"No central logistics for those studying at home has been put together as of yet," he said.
The ministry initially planned to use the lollipop method where children suck on a sweet cotton swab and then spit it into a single container. Upon finding the virus in the test sample, all students in the class have to take a PCR test.
The ministry has not explained in much detail why the plan was dropped and the nose swab method used instead. Kadastik was similarly vague: "It got stuck behind logistical reasons."
The ministry does not plan to adopt the lollipop method in the future should feedback show that the children have learned how to collect test samples from the nasopharynx.
The use of the method is recommended for local governments, for example, in kindergartens that have currently been exempt from the national testing strategy.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski