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North Dakota starts free rapid COVID-19 testing for teachers

November 23, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2020, file photo, North Dakota National Guard soldiers Spc. Samantha Crabbe, left, and Master Sgt. Melanie Vincent administer COVID-19 tests inside the Bismarck Events Center in Bismarck, N.D. With coronavirus cases surging and families hoping to gather safely for Thanksgiving, long lines to get tested have reappeared across the U.S. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2020, file photo, North Dakota National Guard soldiers Spc. Samantha Crabbe, left, and Master Sgt. Melanie Vincent administer COVID-19 tests inside the Bismarck Events Center in Bismarck, N.D. With coronavirus cases surging and families hoping to gather safely for Thanksgiving, long lines to get tested have reappeared across the U.S. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota health officials are rolling out free rapid COVID-19 testing for teachers, staff and school administrators this week as part of a pilot project designed to slow the virus’ spread by identifying and quickly isolating people who may be asymptomatic.

Testing of K-12 teachers will start in the Fargo and West Fargo school districts and will be expanded to other districts in coming days and weeks. Teachers, staff and administrators who work closely with students are being encouraged to get tested weekly through Dec. 31. Students will not be tested as part of the effort.

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“Deploying these rapid tests to K-12 school districts will help to quickly identify and isolate asymptomatic carriers and prevent further spread of the virus to bend the curve in the right direction, while helping schools remain open or return to in-person learning,” said Gov. Doug Burgum. “Conducting this testing before and after Thanksgiving will also provide insights and help us fine-tune our strategy for reducing community spread, thereby protecting our health care capacity.”

State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said the rapid testing will add an additional layer to strong mitigation strategies schools are already using to keep in-person learning safe.

North Dakota ranks first in the country in new COVID-19 cases per capita, with 2,418 new cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks. One in every 86 people in North Dakota tested positive in the past week.

November is on track to become North Dakota’s deadliest month from COVID-19. Health officials reported six new deaths on Sunday and three on Monday, bringing the statewide death toll to 843 since the pandemic began. Data shows 277 of the deaths have occurred this month so far, just under the October tally of 285. More than half of the statewide deaths have occurred in the past few weeks.

Officials confirmed 710 new positive tests in the last day, the lowest daily total since 527 cases were reported on Oct. 26. The overall total stands at 73,397.

To test the teachers, the state will use Abbott BinaxNOW point-of-care antigen tests, which can diagnose a coronavirus infection in 15 minutes. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is allocating 220,000 BinaxNOW tests to North Dakota by the end of the year.