By John Ramos

SAN RAFAEL (KPIX) — When students in Marin County leave school for the holiday break they will be carrying a COVID-19 test kit with them. It’s part of a massive universal testing experiment that officials hope will eliminate a holiday surge of the virus.

“Yeah, it is a logistical challenge, that’s for sure,” said Mike Grant, Safe Schools Director for the Marin County Office of Education.

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When kids throughout Marin County return to class after winter break, they will be part of the single largest COVID testing program in California. The county Office of Education has received 47,000 self-administered COVID tests from the state.

“The idea is that every student and staff member will be issued a rapid antigen test kit and we’ll use the tests before returning to school to ensure that they’re not bringing COVID back into the school setting,” said Grant.

The tests are to be done the day before returning to school, with results reported to an online data site or special phone number. Marin County Health Officer, Dr. Matt Willis, said the rapid test, while not as sensitive as a PCR lab test, will actually work better for this purpose.

“It’s convenient, easy to use, can be done in the household, results are available in 15 minutes. And they’re accurate for what we’re most concerned about, which is the presence of contagious infection,” said Dr. Willis.

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Marin has generally been proactive during the pandemic with one of the highest vaccination rates in America, including younger children. Still, not all parents are thrilled by the idea of universal testing.

“A little unnerving, a little bit,” said parent Randall Easterday. “I mean, every child has to get zapped by one of these little things? It’s…it’s kind of weird to me.”

“I almost feel like they’re doing an epidemiological study on us–let’s find out who has different variants of COVID,” said parent Janice Rice. “I mean, it’s good information to have, but we also have to balance that with how we feel about our privacy.”

“Not every student or staff member in the county will take a test, we realize that,” said Director Grant. “But we feel very confident that a very high percentage of our students and staff will participate in this program and do their best to get the reports in.”

The Office of Education spent Tuesday delivering tests to the various school districts across the county. The kits and instructions will then be distributed to students and parents before school lets out for the holiday.

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Grant said they expect there to be some positive cases revealed by the program and if it keeps COVID out of the classrooms, they think it could become a model for the rest of the state and nation.