MCPS distributes rapid testing kits


Delaney Crawley

The rapid testing kits distributed by the county are intended to provide a more accurate picture of infection rates within schools than self reported numbers.

On Monday, Jan. 10, all Richard Montgomery students received a 2-pack iHealth rapid testing kit. All Montgomery County students and staff, whether positive or negative for COVID, were required to report results to a Google form by Friday, Jan. 14. While vaccinated students must isolate for 10 days, new county rules based on CDC and State guidelines require staff to isolate for only five days

I think it’s really good because it allows you to know the results on the spot. You don’t have to go anywhere to get testing and then wait for three days for your report,” senior Malaika Noor-Asif said. 

I think that it was good at least for those who couldn’t have maybe transportation or easy access to travel to the testing places,” senior Devora Organic said. “Also, I found that it was easy to use, and it was really rapid. It was 15 minutes.” 

Both Asif’s and Organic’s parents approve of the county’s measure. “They’re happy because it actually was hard to get some appointments to rapid test. So many people got COVID over the past month so all the appointments were filled and the walk-in appointments were available but obviously the wait was longer,” Organic said. 

Some parents have raised concerns about the accuracy of the iHealth tests, and how well they will gauge the number of infections in the county. The instruction manual included in the box reads, “The iHealth COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test was compared to an FDA-authorized… test using… nasal swab specimens,” and that this authorized test correctly identified 33 out of 35 positive individuals (94.3 percent) and 102 out of 104 negative individuals (98.1 percent) in a study. 

The wording implies that the iHealth kit itself was not studied, but “compared” to another FDA-approved test. Notably, it is not FDA-approved or cleared, according to the fine print on their website; but it does have an EUA (Emergency Use Authorization). It is not accepted for travel requirements. The manual also says that a negative result is only “presumptive.” In fact, according to the Wexner Medical Center of Ohio State University, having a lower viral load (having less intense symptoms) and testing earlier than 5-7 days after infection lead to higher chances of false negatives. Repeated rapid testing or PCR tests will be more accurate. 

Contrary to the numbers on the iHealth manual, one research study found that rapid testing correctly identified only 58.1 percent of COVID-positive symptomatic people. In short, rapid testing accuracy varies “considerably” by brand.

“I think it’ll be accurate enough, but I definitely don’t think that it should be the only thing you should use to determine whether or not to close,” Organic said. “Things can still be false positive or false negative so you should definitely get tested multiple times at least. And even if you are asymptomatic, you still have it, so just relying on one method of testing shouldn’t prove that you’re negative. You should definitely get checked again or something.”

The county’s prior system for gauging community infection rates was a combination of free rapid antigen tests for symptomatic students who went to their school nurse and weekly testing of a randomly selected pool of students. Both required parental consent, the latter leading to the county slogan “Say Yes to the Test,” urging parents to opt their children in to the random testing pool. It was a common sight in RM to see random students receive a orange sheet of paper telling them to report to the nurse during class.

It is not yet clear whether MCPS will continue the random screening process, or what exactly they will do with the Jan. 14 reports. A Jan. 9 community update states that “factors considered [for transitioning to virtual learning] will continue to include the number of students and staff who have tested positive; the number of students in quarantine; the number of staff absent for COVID-related reasons; and the level of spread of the virus in the school.” 

I think in-person is better for students to learn more and explore more, but if you look at the situation, the county’s COVID cases are increasing day by day. So if they are going to do it virtually for a week or two, then maybe it can positively impact the students and staff also,” said Asif, whose calculus teacher has been absent for the past week. 

I know for some people it’s really hard for them to go virtual. Personally for me, I didn’t mind virtual, but I think what MCPS is doing now is honestly not the best,” Organic said. “We were almost at the 5 percent rule and then they just decided to completely cancel that for some reason, and they’re just like, ‘We’re just going to take it school by school individually and determine whether or not they should go virtual.’ So I think that the way that MCPS is handling it is not the best but I am glad that they are trying to take more steps to provide the opportunities to help keep students safe, like providing the N95 masks and the rapid tests kits.”