More testing for the coronavirus (COVID-19) is needed in and area schools may be a good place to start, said Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Scott Douglas on Tuesday during a health board meeting.
Douglas and MCHD Administrator Amber Reed said students can represent the county as a whole in regards to positivity rates for the virus. The pair has met with school administrators at North Montgomery, Southmont and Crawfordsville, saying all are on board with potential testing at school.
“As a health department (with) seven employees, we can’t commit to testing 38,000 people,” Reed said. “But if you look at students and families, and staff and families, that’s 49% of our population. That’s half of the people we have to worry about testing (and) those are people they are going to be contact tracing anyway.”
If implemented, Montgomery County would lead all others in Indiana in the effort.
“(School administrators) are coming up with questions we need to get answered from the state, because nobody else is doing this,” Reed said. “The other thing we’re looking at doing is ... potentially utilizing the paramedicine program to actually go to the home to swab.”
The paramedicine program at the Crawfordsville Fire and EMS Department is overseen by Deputy Fire Chief Paul Miller.
Miller recently asked Douglas and Reed how the department can help with testing, leading officials to the unprecedented idea.
“It’s going to be really a joint effort, and (the state is) looking at this becoming a pilot on how it can be replicated and used in other communities where they don’t have a large health department,” Reed said.
With Miller’s help, Douglas and Reed are applying for an immunization grant through the state health department. The grant would boost immunization and COVID-19-testing rates by bringing the test to any given location.
“We’re looking at not duplicating efforts, but really merging to see how he can support that,” Reed said. “He can help go into the schools and do flu clinics, he can help go to a family home or do, essentially, whatever. They’re just willing to utilize their people that can be deployed to get to areas to get that done.”
Talks of rapid-result tests for COVID-19 also came into focus during Tuesday’s meeting. Health Officer Douglas said the goal of 48-hour results is real.
Optum, a healthcare company, has set up COVID-19 test sites around the state and has been steadily decreasing result wait times.
“On their PCR test, the goal was to have a turnaround of 48 hours,” Douglas said. “Early on when Optum started, they had longer turnarounds than that but I think they now have that under control,” Douglas said.
Decreased test times and mobility are promising for testing in school, he said.
“The ideal situation for us is to have testing available immediately in our school systems, so when a kid is sick, we can test them the same day that we send them home — we’re just not there yet,” Douglas said. “Right now our testing in the county requires a doctor’s order, and that’s because it goes through the hospital and the hospital bills the insurance ... it’s not doing the test for free.
“But if we really want to mitigate infection in the school setting, we can’t really take a sick kid, let him go home for two or three days, then get him tested, then get a result back two or three days later, and the whole time have a classroom that had been exposed to that child that we haven’t done anything in terms of mitigation,” Douglas continued. “We really have to move that up.”
The combination of testing at school, mobility through paramedicine and rapid test results promise efficiency across the board.
“It’ll allow us to keep way more kids in school if we can test somebody as soon as they’re sick,” Douglas said. “Our old guidelines were that if you were sick you’d be out for 10 days, period, even if you had a negative (COVID-19) test. The state kind of changed that guideline so now if a kid is sick and gets sent home ... once their illness is over they can come back to school. So if it’s a common cold, that may be sooner than 10 days.
“So the sooner we can get a kid tested, the sooner we can get them back in school safely and also the sooner we can mitigate any exposures they may have had in the classroom. That’s a high bar, but that’s where we need to be.”
Douglas, Reed, Miller and health board members will be working closely with school administrators to determine the next steps for the pivotal program.
For more information, and to learn how to get tested for COVID-19, visit www.montgomerycounty.in.gov or call the health department at 765-364-6440.