Home testing returning students to school earlier

Fast results: A rapid antigen test in action. Picture: AP
Fast results: A rapid antigen test in action. Picture: AP

Rapid Antigen Home Testing will be used to reduce the disruption positive COVID-19 cases have on schools and student learning.

The NSW Government is expanding the use of Rapid Antigen Home Testing (RAHT) to reduce the time students and staff spend away from school if they are a close contact of a positive case.

Under NSW Health advice, close contacts of COVID positive cases can return to school after seven days, provided they receive a negative PCR test result on day 7 of their exposure date and consistent negative rapid antigen test results from day 8 until day 14.

Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning Sarah Mitchell said the tests would be an important way to help students and staff return to the classroom earlier in schools with positive cases.

"Using RAHT, our pilot has shown that tests are effective in reducing the amount of time close contacts spend learning from home, with 38 students able to return to the classroom after seven days, instead of the standard 14 for unvaccinated close contacts," Ms Mitchell said.

The targeted rollout will include more than 500,000 RAHT kits ready for rapid deployment to any primary school that records a positive case.

The statewide rollout will focus on government and non-government primary schools, because those students remain unvaccinated. A process for unvaccinated high school students is being explored.

Principals have said that there was significant disruption for students and their families when they were identified as a primary close contact at school, often meaning 14 days in isolation at home.

They said providing parents with an option to use the rapid antigen testing kits at home, and then sending in the negative tests before the start of the school day, enabled schools to reduce this time at home while still ensuring the safety and wellbeing of everyone at school.

The measures to protect against COVID in schools include mandatory vaccinations for school staff and visitors, mask wearing, cohorting, increased natural ventilation, physical distancing rules, and other hygiene measures.