In light of UNMC study, teachers’ union wants PCR tests in all schools

Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 9:33 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The state teachers union is calling for more to be done to protect students and staff from COVID-19.

The ask comes after a first-of-its-kind study by UNMC and Omaha Public Schools found infection rates were six times higher in students than what was being reported in the community. The study found that out by testing asymptomatic students and staff.

Jenni Benson, president of the Nebraska State Education Association, said the results from the study are exactly what she expected.

“We were right all along,” she said.

Benson said NSEA, which represents 28,000 teachers across the state, knew there were asymptomatic staff and students in the classroom. The program showed just how many.

Health experts say the study also shows how much the protective measures matter. 6 News was told there was little to no spread in the schools after those asymptomatic students and staff were removed from the classroom.

“It shows how important the things schools were doing like mandating masks in school. That was important because if you have an asymptomatic kid coming, then you are going to protect other kids around them,” said Anne O’Keefe, Douglas County Health Department Senior Epidemiologist.

NSEA agrees, saying that now that the information has been proven in a study, more needs to be done in school districts across Nebraska.

“You are doing all the PPE and mitigation strategies, and all of these things, but it doesn’t really do any good if you are not doing the testing along with it,” Benson said.

The union says the next step is to make the PCR salvia tests available to school districts statewide.

“Let’s do the salvia tests. Let’s have this data that we can use. Then that money should be being used for that as well,” Benson said. “No more can you say, ‘Oh, we don’t have the money for this.’ ”

The Douglas County Health Department said it’s too early for recommendations but will be looking at that part next.

NSEA says all eyes are now on Nebraska.

“We will be setting the groundwork for things in the nation as well, so we want to make sure all of our children are safe and secure,” Benson said.

The Nebraska Department of Education says they fully support testing in the future.

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