Missouri schools temporarily unable to order more COVID-19 rapid tests from state due to supply issues
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Dwindling supplies of COVID-19 rapid tests could soon have major implications for schools across Missouri.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced it ran out of antigen tests on Monday. Right now schools will not be able to reorder these rapid tests from the state. Schools that have not previously ordered antigen tests are also unable to apply for them at this time.
Springfield Public Schools said it has enough of those rapid tests to at least get through this week.
“We continue to test symptomatic staff and students every single day,” said SPS Chief Communications Officer Stephen Hall. “And so that is something that we will continue to do as supplies allow.”
Hall said a previous order is also on the way.
”We have been notified that another shipment of tests are expected for next week,” he said. “So that is good.”
DESE said those supplies have been dwindling for a little while now. The department cannot currently take any more orders. DESE said it only gets allotted a certain amount of tests from the state.
“What we did was approve a small portion of the reorder requests that had come through,” said DESE Director of Communications Mallory McGowin. “As of Monday, January 10, we depleted the very limited portion of the state’s current inventory that we had access to.”
The department said a combination of factors led to the scarcity of antigen tests.
”We stopped receiving shipments from the manufacturer due to supply constraints,” McGowin said. “And we received an increase in demand for testing because of the high spread of COVID right now.”
The shortage of these rapid tests, coupled with increasing cases, unsettles some parents.
”I think if the government is going to announce that tests are going to be easily accessible to all, then they should be,” said SPS parent Jennifer Crawford.
“My kids, or my grandkids, have had their shots,” said SPS grandparent MC Worthon. “I’m concerned for the other kids as well, but she might still get the virus if the other kids don’t have their shots.”
Right now DESE said districts can apply for PCR tests as a backup.
“However, the turnaround time for those PCR tests is about 48 hours,” McGowin said. “So the immediacy of the antigen test was a real game changer for schools and continuing to be able to keep our school buildings open for in person learning. So it is going to be a challenge for some of those districts to find adequate testing to meet that need.”
Springfield Public Schools said it saw a surge in cases over winter break. On Monday alone, the district had more than 260 new cases among students and staff.
”In one day, yesterday, we saw as many cases reported as we did over the entire winter break,” Hall said. “So there is a lot of evidence that indicates that we are at the beginning of a significant surge. And so we are very concerned as we look ahead.”
The district said this does create a variety of staffing issues, as well as concern over missed classes.
“We have been in a workforce shortage for some time,” Hall said. “We’ve seen that at the classroom level, but especially in our support staff positions, including nutrition services and bus drivers. So we are very concerned that we have entered this surge already at a disadvantage when it comes to workforce staffing.”
Hall said the district has been able to keep up with staffing for the time being by using substitutes and other positions.
Some districts across the Ozarks have canceled school or switched to online learning amid the rise in COVID cases. Hall said virtual learning has always remained a possible “mitigation strategy” for SPS during the pandemic. He said the district continues to monitor all of its schools.
“We have communicated to our staff and to our families, asking for them to remain flexible and provide the grace that’s necessary to really make those decisions,” he said. “And many times we don’t have a lot of lead time on making those calls. So there may be a need for us to transition to virtual learning at the site level, or at a grade level or at a classroom level.”
Some SPS parents hope it does not get to that point.
“The kids need to be in the classroom with the teacher,” Crawford said. “And the teacher went to school to be a teacher. I’m trying to work full time. I’m sending my kids to a school to get taught. That’s not one of my strengths. So I am for sure hoping the kids stay in the classroom.”
As cases continue to rise, Hall said it is very important that anyone who feels sick stay home.
“If someone is experiencing symptoms of any illness, we do not want them to come to school or report to work,” he said. “If they have symptoms of an illness, they should remain home and seek the advice of a health care provider. We certainly want people to be tested, but they should not wait for the results of that test to decide if they should come to school or to work. If they have a symptom of any illness, they should remain home and be isolated to help prevent the spread.”
Right now DESE said it is unsure when antigen test supplies will increase and when ordering will be able to resume.
“We will let school leaders know as soon as we hear when inventory may become available to us,” McGowin said. “But unfortunately that is not clear right now.”
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