This story was updated Sept. 7 to reflect the importance of measures such as masking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
Oregon Health & Science University is partnering with the Oregon Health Authority, Oregon Department of Education and school districts across a wide swath of the state to provide free COVID-19 weekly screening for students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade.
OHSU can process as many as 8,000 tests per day through this new initiative.
“It’s important for us to be here to support students in the state of Oregon,” said Donna Hansel, M.D., Ph.D., chair of pathology in the OHSU School of Medicine. “It’s important for students to be back in the classroom and to be able to do that safely. We also know that we can get ahead of any outbreaks by doing testing.”
As part of a broader statewide initiative led by the OHA and the ODE to stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools, OHSU will offer weekly screening testing for schools in the Portland metro area, the north coast and a broad swath of Eastern Oregon.
The screening program is among several measures, including masking, that school districts across the state are taking to minimize the risk of outbreaks among students and staff.
The OHSU screening uses a specialized tube to collect saliva, which will then be couriered or shipped to an in-house testing lab on OHSU’s Marquam Hill Campus to be analyzed for genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The screening is designed as a regular spot-check for unvaccinated students with no symptoms, but will be open and available to all students who need it.
Estimated turnaround time is between 24 and 48 hours from the point of collection.
“The ultimate goal is to help schools stay open as much as possible,” Hansel said. “Schools will have a lot of authority in how this program works and how it rolls out. The goal is to do a once-a-week spit test that’s accurate and easy to do. We’ve used this quite a bit at OHSU and in the community.”
OHSU researchers have found that the accuracy of the saliva test among people with no symptoms is almost exactly the same as results collected by a deep nose swab, which usually requires a health care worker to scoop a sample from deep within the nasal cavity.
OHSU’s COVID-19 Connected Care Center, which opened early in the pandemic as a statewide resource for Oregonians with questions about COVID-19, will notify students or parents of results that detect infection. Local public health authorities will also be notified and work with schools to determine appropriate next steps.