Why Virus Tests at One Elite School Ran Afoul of Regulators

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Edward Campbell, a microbiologist at Loyola University, started SafeGuard after learning of a virus test developed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. SafeGuard serves about 30 school districts and runs roughly 30,000 tests per week, at $11 per test, Dr. Campbell said.

New Trier signed on, too, but the introduction of the test did not go smoothly. Tempers flared at school board meetings, with some arguing for the school to open, citing the harm being done to students’ mental health. Others questioned the push to stay open despite skyrocketing Covid-19 rates in Illinois.

Some parents made T-shirts, set up a website and held a rally in support of reopening; a group of students countered with an online rally. The testing program roiled the community, pitting the administration against teachers, students against the administration, parents against teachers and parents against parents.

“A lot of kids don’t even want to come to school because apart from the Covid risk, it’s also just not enjoyable to be at school,” said Eva Roytburg, 18, a senior at New Trier.

Still, the school pushed ahead with testing. Dr. Campbell’s lab analyzed saliva samples from New Trier students and delivered the results in a spreadsheet, flagging students who needed a confirmatory test by a certified lab.

Although SafeGuard technically did not deliver a diagnosis, the implication was clear — after rapid testing, some students were presumed to be infected, and they and their siblings were sent home.

The company and the school refer to this as surveillance. But while surveillance programs may gauge the prevalence of a disease or a pathogen at a population level — that 10 of every 1,000 students are infected, for example — they do not provide results for individuals.

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