New COVID testing system could help keep Chesco schools open this fall

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times @mikemcgannpa

Scanning the QR code on this fast COVID antigen test, via an app, allows rapid data collection and the ability to forecast outbreaks.

While virtually every adult (and most kids over age 12) will likely have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine if they (or their parents) want it, it seems increasingly likely that for kids 11 and under, vaccines will be few and far between, if any, when schools reopen next August.

That means while high school and most middle school students will have access to the vaccine, students in elementary schools won’t likely have the option much before the end of year — leaving school districts with the very real concern of fighting COVID outbreaks this fall.

That’s where a partnership between Childrens’ Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) the federal Department of Health and Human Services  (HHS) and a data/AI company, DataRobot is helping schools in the county to get ahead of COVID outbreaks before they get out of control — allowing for a safe reopening of schools for in-person education.

Already some 560 schools in Pennsylvania are using the system, including 69 in Chester County, with more than 200,000 tests deployed so far. The program is moving toward a wider rollout nationally.

Sally Embrey, VP of Public Health and Health Technologies at DataRobot, explained that the intent was to create a data collection system is intended to help school districts reopen safely without adding complexity or unnecessary extra work for educators, many of whom already has faced new and difficult challenges over the last year.

“The key word is ‘simplicity,’ “ Embry said. “This is not supposed to be a burden.”

Basically, the program involves using antigen testing weekly on students to monitor the entire school population — the tests are supplied for free — and an app to upload QR codes on both the tests and for the students being tested, once registered in the testing program. Antigen tests have the advantage of being quick — results often are available within 15 minutes — but are more prone to false positive tests, which is why slower follow up molecular/PCR testing on those with symptoms or a positive test, although those results typically take one to three days.

The entire data set can be analyzed for the early signs of an outbreak, giving schools a better chance of preventing a wider spread of the virus.

The tests are provided free by HHS, while the app is free from DataRobot — the only costs for school districts involve manpower, both for the initial training and running the weekly testing protocol.

Already, more than 4,000 teachers and administrators have been trained to use the system.

“We’re working to keep it (the cost) as minimal as possible,” DataRobot’s Embry said. 

Any school district interested in learning more can go to

   Send article as PDF   

Share this post:

Related Posts

Leave a Comment