Dr. Michele St. Louis from the Montefiore School Health Program uses the new Cepheid testing system at Roosevelt Campus. Photo courtesy of the Montefiore Health System
Pediatric providers at six Montefiore School Health Program clinics are using new rapid testing to determine if children in school have the flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) or COVID-19. RSV is a common, and very contagious, virus that infects the respiratory tract of most children before their second birthday. For most babies and young children, the infection causes nothing more than a cold. Results of the new test are available within 40 minutes of providing a nasal swab sample.
The new Cepheid systems will begin testing in the remaining 25 Montefiore School Health Program clinics in the coming weeks. Thousands of Bronx children in elementary, middle and high schools with a Montefiore School Health Program clinic will have access to the rapid test right in their school building
Typically, when a child is sick with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, they must leave the classroom and go to a designated isolation room in the school. A school nurse assesses the child, and they are typically sent home with instructions to seek further evaluation by their pediatrician and to seek COVID testing, when possible. At the schools where Montefiore School Health Program clinics are in the building, once implemented, ill students will be able to be tested onsite in the health center.
The result takes approximately 40 minutes, which is often less time than it would take for a parent or caregiver to get to the school. The test uses PCR technology, and does not require a second, confirmatory test. The speed and accuracy of the test is a huge benefit to the children and their families who would typically have to get a test done at another location and wait several days for a result.
It is also beneficial for the school staff who will know almost immediately if they and their other students need to quarantine. Having this capability in a child’s school building reduces barriers to care, such as the need to travel. Additionally, families are not charged for the test or the clinic visit.
“We know that many children learn better when they are physically in the classroom, and that there are psycho-social benefits when it can be done safely,” said Dr. Delaney Gracy, a pediatrician and director of clinical services at Montefiore School Health Program. “By having access to results so quickly, children won’t have to quarantine unnecessarily, and we can provide much better care, support and guidance when we know definitively if the illness is caused by COVID-19, flu, or RSV.”
Symptoms of Influenza A, Influenza B, RSV and COVID-19, including fever, cough and congestion, overlap. The new, four-in-one test enables contact tracing to begin immediately if a child is diagnosed with COVID-19, preventing further spread of the virus. The results are also automatically reported to the State, supporting city and statewide tracking of local prevalence rates.
Last year, providers at six of the Montefiore School Health Program clinics conducted a pilot study to implement the Cepheid rapid flu test in a school setting. This proved beneficial in ramping up for what they would unknowingly need this year – rapid COVID-19 testing.
“We have been privileged to partner with the Montefiore School Health Program for many years and, most recently, on this extremely important initiative,” said Dr. Amy S. Fox, a virologist and pediatrician who is Division Chief of the Montefiore Pathology Department’s Point of Care Testing Program & Outreach Laboratories.
“The ability to test for respiratory viruses as well as SARS-COV-2 with the Cepheid devices at the Point of Care is a game changer,” she added. Dr. Fox and her team work closely with school health leadership in the implementation and validation of testing as well as in training school health nurses who are performing the tests.