KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Johnson County schools will receive thousands of saliva tests in the next few weeks for students and staff, according to the county health department.
On Wednesday, many were calling the announcement a game changer.
“We’re going to be able to test thousands of students and teachers and staff,” said Dr. Sanmi Areola, director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment. “This will be a very important tool for us, currently, especially in preventing infections in schools and preventing outbreaks. This test will be our preferred method for testing school students, teachers and staff.”
The department said it expects to have access to “several thousands tests,” which will allow “on demand” testing in schools to monitor the spread of the virus, according to a news release. The health department also discussed the testing during a Shawnee Mission School District town hall on Wednesday.
Heather Fehling, chief scientific officer of molecular diagnostics for Clinical Reference Laboratory, said that if a "pool" of tests come back positive, it means one or more people within that pool are positive for COVID-19.
"So then we go back to the original five samples," Fehling said. "We put them in a single sample through our whole process. Test them and figure out which sample was positive."
Some parents in the Shawnee Mission School District are happy to know there will be testing in schools.
"It definitely gives that added layer of knowing, I guess, who is positive and I think being able to separate those out from the folks that are negative," parent Kurt Kloeblen said.
"Maybe with the testing, we will be able to come back sooner," said Megan Neher, another SMSD parent.
While there are still many questions surrounding the testing, parents are seeing it as a step toward getting back to some normalcy.
"It does make me feel better that there is light at the end of this tunnel, that Natalie maybe able to go back to in-person learning at Shawnee Mission South," Neher said.
The health department is still working with school district nurse coordinators on how to deploy the tests. They should be available to schools in the coming weeks.
Shawnee Mission School District Superintendent Dr. Mike Fulton said the testing will “allow us to be a partner” in slowing the spread of the virus in schools and throughout the community.
Most Johnson County school districts begin class after Labor Day. In the Shawnee Mission School District, all schools will begin remotely.