StrongSchoolsNC FAQs for Parents and Guardians Version en Español Free, school-based testing for COVID-19 is an important layer of protection to keep our children in the classroom. By testing for COVID-19, we can quickly detect the virus within our schools and reduce the risk of further spread. That’s why the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) is partnering with local school districts, charter schools and private schools to ensure every North Carolina school has the resources it needs to have a strong COVID-19 testing program. NCDHHS is providing access to testing supplies and staff, in addition to funds for public schools to hire additional school nursing staff to help keep our students healthy. Frequently Asked Questions General Information What is the StrongSchoolsNC COVID-19 Testing Program? The StrongSchoolsNC COVID-19 Testing Program is a partnership between the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) and local school districts, charter schools and private schools to ensure schools have the resources they need to provide free COVID-19 testing at school. NCDHHS is providing access to testing supplies and trained staff, in addition to funds for public schools to hire additional school nursing staff to help keep our students healthy. Is my child’s school participating in the program? Over 200 school districts, charter schools, and private schools across North Carolina have signed up to participate in the StrongSchoolsNC K-12 COVID-19 Testing Program. Check our list of participating schools see if your school has opted into the program. Why are we testing our students for COVID-19? Regular testing in schools helps us quickly detect COVID-19 and reduce the risk of further spread. And providing testing at school ensures every student has free, easy access to testing services. Who is eligible to be tested? K-12 school students, teachers, and staff in North Carolina public school districts, charter schools, and private schools that are participating in the StrongSchoolsNC testing program are eligible for COVID-19 testing through the StrongSchoolsNC testing program. Does my child have to get tested to attend school in-person? Participation in the school testing program is optional and requires the consent of a parent or guardian. Contact your school’s office for information about how to enroll your child in your school’s testing program. Does my child have to get tested to take part in school athletics and extracurricular activities? Please contact your child’s school for more information on your school’s plan. Regular COVID-19 testing is a key component of keeping our children learning in the classroom AND on the field. Does my child need to be tested if they have received a COVID-19 vaccine? Current CDC guidance states that if your child is fully vaccinated, they do not need to be tested unless they develop COVID-19 symptoms or have recently been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19. Testing will be conducted in accordance with CDC testing guidance. How do I enroll my child in the school testing program? To enroll your child in the school testing program, please contact your school office to get instructions on signing up. In some cases, you may be able to sign up online by visiting StrongSchools.nc.gov. What else are we doing to protect students, staff, and their families from the spread of COVID-19? Testing is only one part of a layered approach to protect our students, staff, and families as we all work together to keep our children learning in the classroom. Here are a few other key things that can help protect our school communities: Get vaccinated. It’s the most important thing we can do to stop the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 vaccines are available to everyone 5 and older. Visit myspot.nc.gov to find a convenient location to get your vaccine. Wear a mask. Masks should be worn indoors by all students, teachers, staff, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer. Clean and disinfect surfaces regularly. And enroll your child in your school’s COVID-19 testing program. What if my child is experiencing symptoms before school? Should I send them to school to get tested? Students and staff experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should not come to school. This is very important to protect other students and staff in the school. Please use ncdhhs.go/GetTested to find a convenient nearby testing location. How the Program Works How will the testing be done? Every school’s program is a little different because your school will work with NCDHHS and testing experts to design a testing program that meets your local needs. There are a few things you can count on in every StrongSchoolsNC testing program, including that our tests are: Quick, easy, and dependable. Administered by a school nurse, testing professional from a medical laboratory, or other dedicated staff trained to conduct COVID-19 tests. Offered at no cost to students, parents, staff, or your school. Gentle swabs that only go into your lower nostril. (These are NOT the uncomfortable testing swabs that go far into the upper nostril.) Easily accessible because testing is done at school. Minimizes school day disruption so your child can stay focused on learning. Offered to help keep our students in the classroom. How is the test given? Does it hurt? The tests being used in the StrongSchoolsNC program use quick and easy nasal swabs of the lower nostril. (These are not the long, uncomfortable swabs often used in 2020 that reach high into your nostril.) Watch a video of elementary students being tested to see how easy the new tests really are! (And thank you to the students and parents in Vance County for helping show how easy and quick school testing really is in 2021!) When and where will the test be given? All testing will be provided at your child’s school to ensure easy access for all students. Specific on-campus locations and testing days/times at each school will vary, and we encourage you to contact your child’s school for more information. Who will conduct the test? Every school’s program is a little different because we value partnership in building a local testing program to meet local needs. You can always count on testing being conducted by school nurses or other trained COVID-19 testing staff. In some cases, your school may be working with MAKO Medical or Concentric by Ginkgo to provide quick and easy COVID-19 testing. Both companies are experienced in providing school testing and have been contracted by the NC Department of Health and Human Services to support our North Carolina schools. How much does the test cost? COVID-19 testing is free to all students and staff. No insurance information will be requested. Funding for this program is made possible by a CDC grant to support North Carolina’s effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep our students in the classroom. How frequently will my child be tested? Every school is approaching testing a little differently because each school’s testing program is designed to be flexible to meet your community’s needs, which will often depend on the amount of COVID-19 community spread. In general, there are two components of a StrongSchoolsNC testing program: Routine Screening Testing. This is quick, regular preventive testing of all participating students and staff even if they are not showing symptoms of COVID-19 or do not have a known exposure to COVID-19. Routine testing can detect the virus before a student starts showing symptoms. By detecting COVID-19 in our schools as early as possible, we can limit the number of students, staff, and families exposed to the virus and keep children in classrooms. Diagnostic Testing. This type of testing focuses on testing when a student or staff has symptoms of COVID-19 or a confirmed exposure to the virus. The difficulty with only providing diagnostic testing is that not everyone with COVID-19 will present symptoms, but everyone with COVID-19 can spread the virus to others. Flexibility and reliability are key to any strong testing program, and a combination of routine screening testing with diagnostic testing is the best approach to slow the spread of COVID-19. What is “routine screening testing”? Regular screening testing (or “routine screening testing”) is when all participating students and staff are tested on a regular basis (e.g., once per week) even if they do not have COVID-19 symptoms or a known exposure to the virus. It is an important tool to detect COVID-19 early and limit its spread in a school, classroom, or group of students. By screening we are more likely to detect if students or staff have COVID-19 before they are showing symptoms. Detecting the virus earlier means we can limit the number of students and staff exposed to COVID-19, which results in fewer students and staff becoming infected and fewer students and staff needing to miss school because they must quarantine. What is “pooled testing”? Pooled testing is a type of routine screening method. Pooled testing can be helpful when testing a classroom, an athletics team, a club, or other groups because it can quickly test a group of people who are regularly in close contact at one time. It’s a great option for many schools because pooled screening testing is a quick, easy, and dependable way to further minimize disruptions to the school day -- so we can keep our students focused on learning or playing. Pooled testing works by collecting swabs of the lower nostril from a group of participating students and placing the swabs into one tube (i.e., “pooling” the samples). The pooled testing swabs are then sent to the lab and run as a single test sample that will detect if anyone in the pooled group has COVID-19. If there is a positive case of COVID-19 detected in a pooled testing group, then rapid follow-up testing of each individual within the positive group is necessary. Students and staff in a positive pooled testing group are not required to be excluded from school or activities during the individual follow up testing -- unless they are showing symptoms of COVID-19. Students and staff will need to wear a mask until their individual test result comes back negative. Will my child miss class to get tested? Routine screening testing should not interfere with your child’s school schedule and is often done in the classroom. Testing is quick and easy, and can be conducted without disrupting learning. The StrongSchoolsNC testing program encourages local flexibility in building a testing plan that works best for your school community and meets CDC guidance. For more information about your school’s plans for COVID-19 testing, please contact your child’s school. Test Results How will my school protect my child’s privacy? Your child’s privacy is a top priority. COVID-19 testing results are kept strictly confidential and treated as private medical records. Testing results are shared with local and state public health agencies to ensure we are doing everything we can to slow the spread of COVID-19. This information may be used in contact tracing to notify close contacts, but your child’s identity will not be shared with contacts and privacy will be maintained. Is the test reliable? Yes. The tests used in the StrongSchoolsNC Testing Program are sensitive and accurate enough to reliably identify cases of COVID-19. Each student and staff member who gets tested is helping us accomplish the primary goal of school testing -- keeping our children learning in the classroom. What if my child tests positive? If your child tests positive for COVID-19 you will be informed as quickly as possible by the testing laboratory and your school nurse or trained school staff. You may also be informed by your local health department as part of contract tracing. When someone is confirmed as having COVID-19, they are required to isolate. Your child will be required to stay home for a specified period. (Your school or local health department will provide guidance on how long your child will be required to stay home when a positive test result is confirmed.) During this time, if your child feels well enough to do their school work, your school will provide opportunity to continue learning while at home. What happens if someone in my child’s classroom tests positive for COVID-19? Through contact tracing, you will be notified if your child has been in close contact with someone at school who has tested positive for COVID-19. At that time, you’ll be notified by your school or local health department if your child needs to stay home from school and quarantine. Deciding if it is necessary to quarantine will depend on many factors, including: Is your child vaccinated? Has your child tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 3 months? Has your child’s classroom and school maintained a strong policy of appropriate mask wearing and other layered prevention strategies to minimize the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission? For more information, please see the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Initiative Toolkit.