Episode 12: Getting Tested and Returning to School
You voiced your questions and concerns about the ASD School Start 2020 plan, and the District heard. Starting this week, ASD will air a twice weekly, pre-recorded Q&A session with a variety of ASD and community member hosts and guests who will take a deep dive into the details of what school will look like this fall. Videos will post by the end of day every Tuesday and Thursday leading up to the start of the school year. Topics will dig into everything from teacher tricks to encourage social distancing among young students (airplane arms!)? to how will my senior be best prepared for post-graduation life during a pandemic?
Send us your questions here! The District wants to hear your thoughts and comments to be considered for inclusion in the interview
Jen Patronas - Hi, welcome to "Airplane Arms: Navigating Back to School." I'm Jen Patronas, the director of health services for the Anchorage School District, and today we're going to talk about COVID testing, when you should get tested, and which tests you should get. Today I'm joined by Jennifer Cottle, the school nurse of Ravenwood Elementary and Dr. Elizabeth Ohlsen, staff physician of the Division of Public Health. Thank you for being with us today.
Dr. Elizabeth Ohlsen - Thanks for having me.
Jennifer Cottle Thanks.
Jen Patronas - So, I think for this, we need to start off with why you should get testing. So, Nurse Cottle, why should someone get tested for COVID?
Jennifer Cottle - One should get tested if they're symptomatic. So, if you're having symptoms, go and get tested. This way you know. So, you can go out and get tested, this way we keep it out of our communities, out of our schools, and we're keeping our friends and family safe.
Jen Patronas - So, if I go ahead and decide to get my child or myself tested, which type of tests should I get, Dr. Ohlsen?
Dr. Elizabeth Ohlsen -Yeah, so I would recommend making sure the type of test that you're getting is a PCR or a molecular test. Both kinds of those tests look for parts of the genetic material in the virus. And so those are really accurate ones. So, a PCR or a molecular test. Some places do what's called an antigen test, and those can be rapid tests like the molecular test, but the tricky thing about the antigen test is you can't use it and have it be accurate if you don't have any symptoms. And if you do have symptoms, you can believe the positive result, but if you get a negative result on an antigen test, you still need another test to find out if you actually don't have the virus. So, if you get an antigen test, you're likely to end up needing a PCR or a molecular test also before you can come back to school.
Jen Patronas - So if I go to my local healthcare provider and I get an antigen test and it's negative, then I have to get another one?
Dr. Elizabeth Ohlsen - Mm hm, yes.
Jen Patronas - Which type of test does ASD accept?
Jennifer Cottle -ASD accepting molecular and PCR testing only. So no antigen testing.
Jen Patronas - Dr. Ohlsen, I've heard a lot also about antibody testing. Do you recommend getting that?
Dr. Elizabeth Ohlsen - So, an antibody test is a blood test. Some people will get it from a finger stick or a blood draw. Antibodies look for evidence that your body is reacting to the virus, but unfortunately these are not accurate and they're not a good way to tell if you have the virus right now. The main question that we're asking is, are you contagious with this virus? A blood test cannot tell you if you're contagious with this virus. So I don't recommend getting a blood test to make that decision.
Jen Patronas - Okay, so if I, my child gets sent home sick, it's really good to ask my healthcare provider to give him a molecular or a PCR test?
Dr. Elizabeth Ohlsen - Exactly. That's what to look for.
Jen Patronas - Can you get those as a rapid test as well?
Dr. Elizabeth Ohlsen - Yeah, so some places in town will have molecular rapid tests and those can be run in 15 or 20 minutes.
Jen Patronas - Well, I've also heard that if I test positive, I shouldn't get tested again for a while. Can you explain that to me?
Dr. Elizabeth Ohlsen - Sure. So right now, what we're seeing is that most people who test positive for the virus, don't get it again within the next three months. In fact, most people don't get it again as far as we know. So what we do is we say that because if you get tested again, you might still be positive from your first test, even though you're not contagious. We say don't get tested at all for three more months, unless you have symptoms. If you have symptoms, you should talk to your doctor.
Jen Patronas - Nurse Cottle, is ASD going to require everyone to get tested before they returned to school? Staff and students?
Jennifer Cottle - No, there will not be a requirement to have a test prior to coming back into the school buildings for staff or students. Of course, that's your option if you choose to do so. And obviously if you're having symptoms the day of school starts and beyond then of course, we're going to stick with our ASD symptom-free and stay home that day and go get tested.
Jen Patronas - Anything else that you want to add to this?
Dr. Elizabeth Ohlsen - So the thing that we're seeing is that it makes such a huge difference if you decide to get tested right away with the very first symptom, or if you decide to wait. People who get tested right away and know right away, and that way you can protect your friends, you can protect your family. You can protect your community. If you decide to wait a few days, it's very common for people to have mild symptoms, and unfortunately you can give it to a lot of other people in that time. So, if you have symptoms, get tested right away.
Jen Patronas - Thank you. I think the key points to remember here is if my child or myself gets sent home sick, we need to get tested on the first day and ask for a molecular or a PCR test. Well, thank you for being here today, Nurse Cottle and Dr. Olson. And thank you for joining us for navigating back to school.