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Pasco school students, staff to get rapid coronavirus testing

The sites will not be open to the general public.

Hoping to learn of coronavirus cases quickly and stop them from spreading, the Pasco County school district and health department have joined forces to provide special testing sites to district students and staff.

The plan calls for three locations — Land O’ Lakes High, Gulf Middle and Pasco Elementary — to begin operating this week. They will not be open to the general public.

School nurses will hand out appointments to the people who need them.

“We are doing this to expedite testing for school staff and students so we can identify positive cases quickly and isolate them, and quarantine close contacts quickly to prevent outbreaks in the schools,” health department nursing director Jennifer Gray said via email. “School staff and students are a priority group for testing by [the Florida Department of Health].”

The students and staff should know the outcome of their free tests within 48 hours, she said.

District officials stressed that they want anyone who has symptoms to stay home, adding that those awaiting test results should not come to class until they are cleared.

Spokesman Steve Hegarty said he expects this new testing model to help get people back into school faster.

“You can have the symptoms but not have them add up to COVID-19,” Hegarty noted. “If that’s the case, we don’t have to keep you out of school for two weeks.”

To this point, the district has generally advised students and staff who have come in contact with someone who tested positive to quarantine for up to 14 days. Through Sept. 11, the district reported 59 cases affecting 1,133 students and 97 employees.

The cases have caused classrooms to switch to remote learning and led to football game cancellations.

Pasco is not the only district to set up special testing arrangements.

In late August, the Hillsborough County district announced a partnership with Tampa General Hospital to provide rapid testing for its employees.