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November 24th, 2020

ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


The number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb throughout the country, and many people are still looking to be tested for the virus. 

Recently, it was announced Meade USD 226 was selected to participate in a pilot COVID-19 testing program run by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE). The program began Nov. 12.

“It was about two or three weeks ago when we found out. We'd heard about the program because it was offered to schools throughout the state from the KDHE and there was a form everyone had to submit, and there were a few options schools could choose from,” USD 226 Superintendent Kenneth Harshberger said. “We actually chose to do the testing for students and staff here in the district who exhibit symptoms, and one of the other options was doing the testing in groups of students. I submitted the application to KDHE and asked our health department if they'd be willing to help with this, and they came on board.”

In October,  Harshberger added, Gov. Laura Kelly announced Kansas was given 870,000 rapid tests by the federal government, 50,000 of which had already arrived. The plan, Harshberger said, is to deploy the tests to schools, nursing homes and correctional facilities, then other high-traffic areas where the virus is at risk of quickly spreading.

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“I can't really say there was a feeling of real excitement to be chosen, per se, but we were pleased because we knew this would help us the best, and this is a great way to test our students and staff for free who might be feeling some symptoms,” Harshberger said. “And extending from that, it will help a lot of families since it's free because it might be a hardship for them to get the test done at the hospital or have to have a hospital stay because of COVID-19. It's also a very quick test, it only takes about 15 to 20 minutes, and we're again hoping it helps families – if you test positive, you can start your quarantine sooner and start getting better sooner and if you test negative, you can get back to normal life sooner. And this is the antigen test that goes just inside the nose, this one doesn't go deep into the nasal passage like some of the other tests do. Although the test has an accuracy of the test is 97.1 percent, the KDHE will follow-up with a PCR test with a health care provider when the antigen test shows up positive.”

Harshberger also talked about the process for getting one of the tests done. 

“We have a task force in our school that has nurses and healthcare workers from our health department on it along with some of our administrators, and they'll be the ones in charge of doing the actual test,” Harshberger said. “If a staff member or student is feeling any symptoms, they would need to talk to the school nurse about setting it up, and then a nurse from our health department will come and do the actual test. If the test is positive, that person will be sent to the isolation room in the school and will be quarantined away from the rest of the school population. Each of our school buildings has an isolation room that can be used if parents are unable to take their child to the health department, and a county nurse will come to the school to complete the testing.”

One particularly major benefit, Harshberger added, is for the district’s families. 

“The number one thing is the benefit to families – the test results come back quickly, and it comes at no cost to the families in our district which, again, is really important because maybe there are some families who don't have health insurance and there are some families who simply cannot afford a hospital visit because of COVID-19,” Harshberger said. “We also want to protect our students and staff, and the quicker we can get those results, the quicker everyone can start the process of feeling better (if they happened to test positive) or getting back to work/normal life (if they happened to test negative). We've sent out information about this being available to our district's staff and students, we've been up front about this being ready for them, and we want everyone to think about their health – if you feel some symptoms coming on, come in and get the test done and the quicker we find out what's what, the better. It doesn't do anyone any good to be in school if they're sick and miserable with this, so we encourage any and all of our staff and students to get tested if they start feeling poorly.”

Harshberger added he is extremely grateful for the program being available for the Meade school district. 

“We're extremely grateful to the health department for wanting to work with the district, they work really well with everyone and we're grateful to them for being our partners with this,” Harshberger said. “I also appreciate the district being chosen to participate in this program, the health of our students and staff is extremely important and we want to do all we can to make sure we help bring the numbers down. I appreciate the KDHE making this program available and I encourage our staff and students to get tested if they start feeling like they're coming down with COVID-19.”

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