Covid testing process for school children to change

School student using coronavirus rapid test kit (photo is illustrative).
School student using coronavirus rapid test kit (photo is illustrative). Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

Due to the speed of the Omicron strain spread, the rate of Covid testing has doubled and as a result, the Health Board (Terviseamet) and the Ministry of Education and Research are making a proposal to finish doing PCR tests on close contact children and replace them with quick tests. When the government agrees with the plan, the new force will enter into force from Monday.

At a lab run by private sector firm Synlab, records are being broken multiple days in a row as, while schoolchildren are being tested multiple times a week, the current situation stipulates that unvaccinated students need to take a PCR test within four days of an infected person is identified in the class.

"Last week, we did a bit over 40,000 tests, our regular weeks have been around 25,000. When the week before, we had over 7,000 consignment notes, then last week we had 14,000 of them," coordinator of public testing Tõnis Allik said.

The volume of testing started increasing from Wednesday last week and the sudden increase in the workload has created a situation where people got the time for testing the next day or even the day after.

The Health Board already talked about replacing PCR tests with rapid tests in September. Now that time is here, Deputy Director of Health Board Mari-Anne Härma said. The main reason isn't saving although 35 percent of the tests are done on asymptomatic people, but wish to avoid overload on testing.

Some things have been done. Starting from this week, unvaccinated people crossing the border don't need to take a PCR test but stay in self-isolation for seven days.

"Similarly, close contacts do not have to be tested at the end of their isolation period and students are tested on the fourth day," Härma continued.

Allik said that almost every third person who comes to the test without symptoms of the virus is a student who has to perform a PCR test as a close contact before being allowed to go to school.

"At the moment, this puts a lot of work on the testing center, because there are a lot of infections in the schools. Therefore, there is a lot of pressure on the call center," Härma said.

The call queue was a maximum of two hours on Monday and 18 minutes on Tuesday, but the agency also estimates that this time is too long.

The Health Board and the Ministry of Education and Research are proposing to the government to change the testing procedure for close contact children.

"If there is currently an obligation to perform a PCR test no earlier than on the fourth day after an infected student is identified, it will be replaced by a rapid test on the fifth day," Rain Sannik, the crisis manager of the Ministry of Education said.

Sannik said that unvaccinated children must remain in solitary confinement and may return to school if the result of a quick test on the morning of the fifth day is negative.

Students who do not want to take a quick test on day five or whose parents do not allow their children to be tested at school must be in solitary confinement for seven days. If at the beginning of the rapid testing the ministry wanted them to be done at school, now testing at home is preferred.

The Health Board believes that even by using rapid tests, it is possible to control the spread of the virus. "We are quite convinced in these rapid antigen tests, and so far at least in the case of the omicron strain, at least it can be seen that these positive cases are identified with this antigen rapid test," Härma said.

If the government approves the change on Thursday, the new regime will take effect next week.

Those parents who brought their child to close contact on Tuesday did not complain about the previous procedure.

"If necessary, it is necessary. There was a positive in the class and everyone has to undertake it," a parent said, adding that the possibility of replacing the PCR test with a rapid test would make life much easier.

Härma said people with symptoms should take the PCR test.

Starting Monday, Synlab will test for influenza and RS virus in addition to corona. On Monday, 33 infections with the 'flu and 48 with the RS virus were detected. Two people were diagnosed with both flu and coronavirus at the same time. Every other patient who was sent to the doctor was tested positive for the coronavirus.


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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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