A COVID-era landmark: At-school Inspire testing ends

March 15, 2023 — by Jonny Luo
Photo by Jonny Luo
Take-home COVID-19 tests are provided by the school for pick-up in the health office.
Recent downturns in demand for the PCR testing service has led Inspire Diagnostics to leave the district.

The end of California’s State of Emergency and decreased usage led Inspire Diagnostics to end their PCR testing service on Feb. 28 due to low revenue. The school will still provide free take-home tests. 

District Nurse Lisa Tripp attributed the drop in test numbers to the convenience and accessibility of free, at-home COVID-19 tests provided by the district. The district is planning to place an order for more tests to provide students, families and staff with free, readily-accessible tests until the end of the 2023-24 school year, as the ending of California’s State of Emergency means the local County Office of Education will no longer be receiving tests from the government — though they still have a large stockpile. 

Following updated California Department of Public Health quarantine guidelines, the school has changed quarantine policy to allow students to return to school after five days of isolation, with day zero being the day a student tests positive; students should still report positive cases to the attendance office. 

Students must feel well, have improved symptoms and be fever-free for at least 24 hours before returning to school. Students must wear masks upon returning to school until day ten, and they can take off masks after two sequential negative tests at least one day apart, according to an email sent out by the district. 

Initially, following the recent winter break, Inspire saw low testing numbers and dropped from testing all day on Tuesdays and Thursdays to half days on those same days. A month later, they switched to half days only on Wednesdays. The service ended altogether in late February when the end of California’s State of Emergency, which provided subsidies for testing providers, further increased the cost per test and decreased profits. 

“It just wasn’t worth their while to come,” Tripp said. “So basically, they fired us.”

Other school districts, such as the Santa Cruz County School Districts, have continued on-campus PCR testing due to high demand. The county requires a negative PCR test before a sick student is cleared to return to school, unlike Saratoga’s “honor system.” The county tests thousands of students each week and has completed around 700,000 PCR COVID-19 tests since resuming in-person learning. 

However, it is still recommended that students test when ill or when exposed to the virus. Teachers will still be mandated to test three to five days after exposure and wear a mask for up to 10 days afterwards, per county guidelines.
The school will also continue to hand out free COVID-19 take-home tests. Students can ask for them in the health office all day, and the school also provides them on a table outside the office before holiday breaks, after which students are recommended to get tested.

While tests handed out in the future may be listed as “expired” on the box, the federal government has extended the expiration dates on these tests. Additionally, according to Tripp, these tests are presumed to be valid so long as the control line still shows up strong when the test is administered.

“I’m hoping to have enough [tests] to get us through the next year to offer them free to families as much as needed,” Tripp said. 

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