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PHA | New nasal swab tests helping make testing easier for school children

A change in rapid COVID-19 tests which requires post-primary school pupils to swab only their nose is helping to make regular asymptomatic testing easier.

School pupils in years 8-14 are asked to test themselves at home twice a week using Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests to help prevent those who may have the virus but not have symptoms from spreading COVID-19.

The switch to the ACON Flowflex nose-only test for asymptomatic pupils will also see quicker return times for results, with the LFD giving a reading 15-30 minutes after taking the test.

Dr Louise Herron, Consultant in Public Health Medicine at the Public Health Agency, said:

“It’s estimated that around one third of people with COVID-19 don’t have any symptoms, so they could be spreading the infection without even realising they are infected.

“We understand that for many pupils the previous test, where they had to swab their throat as well as their nose was uncomfortable, so the move to the nose-only swab is making things a lot easier, more-straight forward, and the turnaround time for results can also be quicker than before.

“Asymptomatic testing is an extremely important and effective way of helping ensure that those who may have the virus without knowing can take the appropriate actions to reduce the spread of coronavirus and keep others safe. For it to work, we need as many people as possible to participate.

“During the transition to the ACON Flowflex nose-only test, some schools will be using up existing stock of the Innova SARS-Cov-2 Rapid Antigen Lateral Flow test kit which requires a swab of the throat and nose. So please ensure that you read the instructions of the test you intend to use as there may be more than one type in your household and the correct process needs to be followed for each particular test.”

All pupils in years 8-14, and all staff in pre-schools, primary schools and post-primary schools who do not have any symptoms of COVID-19 are strongly urged to take part in the asymptomatic testing programme and report their result, even if it is negative, on the Department of Health and Social Care’s testing portal.

Recording the LFD test result online, helps to track the spread of the virus across Northern Ireland and identify areas of concern and where communities may need additional support.

LFD testing for school staff and pupils is twice weekly, three to four days apart and the test is taken at home. If a LFD test result is positive, they must isolate immediately and book a PCR test.

Seamus Bradley from the COVID-19 Response Team at the Education Authority said:

“The change to the ACON Flowflex nose-only test is expected to be a great help to our pupils. It simplifies the test procedure, provides a quicker result and is one of the valuable tools in helping to reduce risks for our whole school community.

“Testing doesn’t replace the need for other mitigations. High rates of participation in the asymptomatic testing programme, alongside measures such as cleaning, ventilation and use of face coverings will help to reduce risk of transmission between all of us.

“The best place for children and young people remains to be in school, where they have opportunities to learn together, socialise with their friends, and get the best start in life.

“There is no doubt that young people have been greatly impacted throughout the pandemic and have experienced significant disruption to their learning.

“We would again thank all of schools leaders and wider school communities for their continued support, commitment and determination to keep children and young people safe and in school and keeping COVID-19 out of schools.”

LFD testing should be used for those without symptoms only. If a person has any of the symptoms of COVID-19 – a high temperature, or a new continuous cough, or change in sense of taste or smell – they need to follow the existing public health advice, isolate with their household, book a PCR test in the normal way and engage with Contact Tracing Service when required.

A negative result still does not mean that we should let our guard down. We still need to carry out all the appropriate public health measures of keeping our distance, washing hands regularly and wearing a face covering where required, as well as keeping areas as well-ventilated as possible, in order to help stop the virus spreading.

Vaccination is available to all staff and most post-primary pupils, and should be encouraged. Even if vaccinated, staff and eligible students should continue with regular LFD testing and following the public health guidance.

For more information on the testing programme please visit:

  • Participation in the LFD schools testing programme is voluntary.

  • LFD testing for school staff and pupils is carried out twice weekly three to four days apart.

  • Results are logged via a portal on the DHSC website.

  • A negative LFD test result does not enable an individual to drop their guard and people should not change their behaviours.

  • If a positive LFD test result is detected then the individual must book a PCR test as soon as possible to confirm the result and they and their household must self-isolate.

  • If the PCR test result is positive the individual must complete a full 10 days of self-isolation. The Public Health Agency’s Contact Tracing Service will speak to each positive case and identify close contacts and provide advice and guidance on next steps.

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