Why are pupils doing their OWN Covid tests? Children swab themselves for coronavirus at school as nurse watches on – despite concerns rapid DIY kits don’t work properly
- Thousands of tests had been sent to schools ahead of the current lockdown
- Now only vulnerable children and who parents are key workers are allowed in
- Pupils are having to administer their own Covid tests as part of scheme
School pupils are carrying out Covid tests on themselves, despite fears over their effectiveness when self-administered.
Students at Oasis Academy in Coulsdon, Surrey, were sent the kits on Monday ahead of the regime starting.
Following the latest national lockdown being announced only vulnerable children or whose parents are key workers have been allowed to attend lessons in person.
They were given instructions by nurses on how to carry out the tests themselves, similar to how some walk-in testing centres are run.
But it comes amid fears self-administered tests could miss cases, due to the force and depth needed to collect a sample.
Experts recommend a trained nurse or professional carries out the insertion of the swab to get to the necessary spot, which can be extremely uncomfortable.
Student Molly Tinker takes a COVID-19 test at Oasis Academy in Coulsdon, Surrey, today
Student Ruby Soden receives instructions on how to self-administer her coronavirus test
Student Henry Parker receives instructions and equipment on how to take his virus test
John Murphy, CEO of Oasis Trust, said on Monday before the lockdown and general school closures: ‘What we know for sure is that our young people make the best progress with quality first teaching, with their teachers, in the classroom with their friends.
‘Therefore, once effectively delivered, we are assured that mass testing in schools will provide additional confidence to our children, parents, teachers and staff, and has the potential to greatly reduce disruption to learning, alongside our existing Covid controls.
‘In January we will be piloting the testing in a number of our schools before implementing this to all our secondary academies across the country.’
Schools were given comprehensive online training modules with 1,500 military personnel on hand to provide advice and guidance on establishing the process.
Student Lily Mae Milliman takes her COVID-19 test using a mirror to assist in using the swab
After use the swab is placed into a reacting agent which shows whether the user has Covid
The tests were sent out to schools before they were shut down under the UK’s new lockdown
Experts warned last year some self-tests are less accurate because they use shorter swabs and do not need to be inserted as deeply into the nose.
Instructions for some say: ‘No force is needed and you do not have to push far into your nostril.’
However, professional-use swabs – which are much longer and are designed to take samples from the ‘floor’ of the nose – can make people gag, their eyes water or even trigger nosebleeds when carried out properly.
Infectious disease specialists say letting people do swabs themselves – notoriously difficult even for trained medics – makes false negatives more likely. False negatives mean people who are infected with the virus are wrongly told they’re in good health.
There fears self-administered tests could miss cases, due to the depth needed to take swab
Professional use swabs are longer and when administered by a nurse can be painful
Infectious disease specialists say letting people do swabs makes false negatives more likely
Britain’s current guidelines mean there is no rule to tell them to stay at home after a negative test, even if they have symptoms. Medics say Britain is out of step with other countries such as New Zealand – which contained its Covid-19 outbreak quickly, which place less importance on tests and do them multiple times.
Professor Jon Deeks, a biostatistics expert at the University of Birmingham, said: ‘A single negative test result doesn’t exclude the disease. You can so easily miss the virus – they give a lot of false negatives.’
Research suggests up to 30 per cent of professional swab tests return false negatives, meaning the number of positive cases may be underestimated by thousands.
It is not clear how inaccurate self-swabs are, even though they are being carried out more than 60,000 times a day in the UK. The Department of Health will not release data about the false negative rates of its tests.
PCR vs lateral flow Covid tests
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PCR TEST AND A LATERAL FLOW?
A PCR test can cost upwards of £180 per person, with the swab needing to be processed in a lab.
The UK, on the other hand, favours faster tests which are not lab based and give a result within 15 minutes.
These rapid coronavirus tests, known as lateral flow tests, are ones that can be done on the spot using portable equipment.
They are faster and cheaper than lab-based PCR tests, which the government uses to diagnose people, but are less accurate.
LATERAL FLOW TESTS ARE RAPID – BUT CAN SACRIFICE ACCURACY
In a lateral flow test a swab is used to get a sample from the person’s nose or throat and it is then processed in a small machine that tries to detect the coronavirus by mixing the sample with something the virus would react with.
If there is a reaction in the mixture it suggests that the person is carrying coronavirus. If not, they get a negative result. This process can be completed in as little as 15 minutes.
You take your own swab though a professional on site processes it through the machine.
Lateral flow miss up to half of cases, by the Department of Health’s own admission.
But damning evidence shows they may be effectively useless when self-administered, despite Downing Street’s current testing scheme relying on people taking their own swabs.
The tests are more accurate when swabs are carried out by trained professionals because they have to be pushed deep inside the nose.
But scientists fear Britain simply doesn’t have the money or enough spare medics to do this nationwide every day, with health chiefs instead accepting DIY swabs to save time.
PCR TESTS CAN TAKE SEVERAL DAYS TO GET RESULTS – BUT ARE MORE ACCURATE
These lateral flow tests differ from the gold standard PCR test – known scientifically as polymerase chain reaction testing.
PCR tests also use a swab but this is then processed using high-tech laboratory equipment to analyse the genetic sequence of the sample to see if any of it matches the genes of coronavirus.
This is a much more long-winded and expensive process, involving multiple types of trained staff, and the analysis process can take hours, with the whole process from swab to someone receiving their result taking days.
It is significantly more accurate, however. In ideal conditions the tests are almost 100 per cent accurate at spotting the virus, although this may be more like 70 per cent in the real world.
This compares to a much lower sensitivity in lateral flow tests, with a trial of one type used in Liverpool suggesting they miss around 50 per cent of the people who would test positive with PCR.
SO, WHAT IS THE BENEFIT OF LATERAL FLOW TESTING?
Extreme accuracy may be a drawback for PCR now that so many people have been infected, however, with the tests able to detect shreds of the virus in people who recovered weeks ago and are no longer infectious, which may lead them to have to self-isolate unnecessarily.
Lateral flow tests are more likely to miss people who are carrying the virus but, experts say, do have value as a way of weeding out people carrying large amounts of the virus and therefore most likely to be spreading the disease.
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