BALTIMORE (WMAR) — Monday marks the beginning of the next phase of expanded in-person learning for Baltimore City Public Schools, with kindergarten through 2nd graders returning.
Today, they announced a new early detection system to keep students and staff safe and send a message to the community.
"That we took their concerns, some of their well-founded skepticism about whether they could trust large institutions to help keep them and most importantly their children safe," said City Schools CEO Dr. Sonia Santelises.
City schools will now offer weekly self-administered saliva-based testing for all asymptomatic students and staff who are in person.
It’s through a partnership with American University and the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan area.
There will be two types. For elementary grades, it’s a pooled screening where an entire classroom will get tested at once and get one test result.
"Students are going to receive a q-tip sized swab and what they will do is they will rub it in the front of their nose," said Dr. Jason Kelly, the CEO Ginkgo BioWorks.
Concentric by Ginkgo is based in Boston and providing these tests for around $145 per classroom. Each classroom will get one tube that can fit up to 25 swabs. Then the tube will get sent off to be tested.
City Schools already starting piloting the testing at elementary schools with great results.
"We’ve heard skepticism about younger people being able to administer the self-administered nasal swab and that has not been a challenge. They have easily been able to do and they have been enthusiastic about being part of it," said Alison Perkins-Cohen, City Schools Chief of Staff.
For high school students, who begin returning mid-March, it’s an individual test supplied by Shield T3 out of the University of Illinois.
"For high schools, we know it’s very difficult to keep students in pods and we really want to provide opportunity for high school students to have a real high school experience where they can move through different courses," said Perkins-Cohen.
City Schools will use federal emergency relief funding to cover the testing costs, which range from $25 for the individual test to $145 for the classroom test. The testing turnaround time is 6-12 hours.
Baltimore City is the first secondary system in the region to offer this.
In addition to early COVID-19 detection, school leaders hope it leads to more students returning in person.
"Getting more students to come back is about relationship building and about trust and part of that is having health and safety protocols that people believe in," said Perkins-Cohen.
"We know that in order for you to be free to think about re-engaging educationally in person, that we have a commitment as public servants and those who have taken and oath to serve, to make sure that we are making these available," said Santelises.
City Schools already has a partnership with the University of Maryland Medical System for symptomatic testing. If families don’t want to participate in the weekly asymptomatic testing, they can opt out and provide testing on their own.