PCR tests and wastewater analysis:Government’s plan for the start of school

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Education Minister Heinz Faßmann (ÖVP) presented a four-point plan “for a safe start to school in the fall” on Wednesday. He presented it at a joint press conference with microbiologist Norbert Kreuzinger and virologist Dorothee von Laer.

The goal is continuous attendance. School closures and shift work are no longer an option, Faßmann emphasized: “No one in government wants that.” Such measures are to be prevented with the following security concept:

Early warning system through wastewater analyses
Wastewater analysts will regularly analyze the “risk situation” in 116 wastewater treatment plants in Austria. In this way, the wastewater from 3,062 school locations and thus from 75 percent of the students is monitored. The advantage of this is that the virus can be detected in wastewater as early as one week before an infection occurs. If the virus is detected, all schools in a certain region can therefore be warned in advance and react preventively with tests or an expansion of the mask requirement. “I think the procedure is sensational,” Faßmann said.

In parallel with the wastewater analysis, there will be area-wide random PCR testing at 300 schools. The gargle study will continue.

PCR tests at least once a week
Speaking of testing, all students will be tested three times a week starting in the fall, at least once via PCR testing. The tests will be conducted in classrooms. The tests will not be gargle tests, but “Alles spült.” Accordingly, fewer aerosols are released during rinsing than during gargling.

The samples will be evaluated anonymously. In parallel, antigen tests will continue to be used. Both tests are recorded in the so-called “Ninja Passport”. This has proven its worth and will continue to entitle children to participate in extracurricular activities, Faßmann said with a smile.

Vaccination buses
Schoolchildren from the age of twelve have the opportunity to be vaccinated. To ensure that vaccinations can be offered as low-threshold as possible, vaccination buses will travel to school locations. In some Austrian states, the campaign with a total of 30 buses will start in the last two weeks of vacation, during summer school. Vaccinated students are exempt from mandatory testing “after the safety phase in the first two weeks of school,” it says.

During the first two weeks of school, mandatory testing also applies to vaccinated students. In addition, masks must be worn outside of classes during this phase. For unvaccinated teachers, the mask requirement also applies in the classroom.

— sources: orf.at/kurier.at and diepresse.at/picture: ALLES SPÜLT – PCR-Tests an Schulen (bmbwf.gv.at)

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