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Why N.H. school COVID testing rules likely won't change, though more at-home tests are coming

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New Hampshire schools' COVID testing requirements are unlikely to change even with the arrival of free at-home COVID-19 tests starting this month.

The state plans to make about a million tests available through theSay Yes! COVID test campaign, though high demand has exhausted the supply this week.

Home tests are relatively accurate for symptomatic people. But they have a higher incidence of false negatives than tests administered at pharmacies and doctors’ offices, so many schools only accept the results of positive at-home tests.

“You always have to look at the entire clinical presentation and not just assume that because the test was taken and it's negative that the student wasn't harboring the virus,” explains Paula McKinnon, head of the New Hampshire School Nurses’ Association.

Schools’ policies vary by district and nurse, but in general, students sent home with COVID symptoms who get a negative at-home test result have to get another test at a doctors’ office or pharmacy before being allowed to return to school.

The proliferation of at-home tests is raising some concerns about the accuracy of the state’s count of active COVID-19 infections.

In a call with school leaders today, state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said the Department of Health and Human Services anticipates an undercount of infections since some people won’t report positive results to the state.

Students who test positive with an at-home test should report this to their school nurse and their pediatrician, who should report this to the state for its daily census of COVID infections.

The state says people who use home tests made available through the new Say Yes! initiative can also report through the digital assistant on theSay Yes! Website, and give permission for this information to be shared with the state.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.

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