NORTHERN UTAH (ABC4) – Students across Utah have to test to stay in school when their school reaches a threshold for COVID-19 cases.

For four school districts in Rich, Cache and Box Elder County, individual classrooms have to hold test to stay events under an emergency health order issued by the Bear River Health Department. This order aims to keep students in school without disrupting the entire student body. One health official tells ABC4 that testing classes may also be having a positive impact on the surround communities.

“(Cases) have been on the rise and are now higher than the September peak,” Bear River Health Department Epidemiologist Caleb Harrison stated. He explained to ABC4 that COVID-19 cases among the five-to-11-year-old age group are rising across the health department’s three counties.

Since school started, Harrison said the health district has held one school-wide test-to-stay event at a high school and 10 classroom test-to-stay events at elementary schools. “That’s been a much more efficient way of finding those positives because out of those 10 events, we’ve only tested 155 individuals, but we’ve found 42 positives from those,” he added.

Harrison said kids are likely to be asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19. This is something that has proven to be true during test-to-stay events. He explained that for test-to-stay events with large turnout “on average, after a test-to-stay event, We’re finding 14 to 18 positives.” However, the health department explained that the average for all classroom test-to-stay events is 4.2 news cases. 

Harrison told ABC4 while some students who test positive at these events are showing some symptoms, many do not. After one of these events, Harrison said, there is usually a sharp spike in cases across that school. He believes this may be due to parents of students in classrooms that were not tested getting their children tested to be safe.

He explained that after the initial spike in cases, a school then sees a sharp and lasting decline in COVID cases.

Harrison told ABC4 that every time they have held a test-to-stay event at a school, or classroom, there has been a decrease in cases across that city or town as well.

Harrision put together graphs of COVID-19 cases per capita for the 15 largest cities across the health department’s three counties. Cases peaked in September for all the cities and then began to decline. However, in cities where the health department had a test-to-stay event — like Hyrum — cases have continued to decrease. On the other hand, in cities where the health department hasn’t held a test-to-stay event, cases rebounded after an initial period of decline. “All of this is correlation, not necessarily causation,” added Harrison.

Harrison told ABC4 there is not yet enough evidence to prove the decrease in cases per capita is directly linked to testing events.

However, he believes that using testing to slow the spread in unvaccinated kids (those under the age of 12), looks promising for the whole community. He stated: “(It) ultimately translates to rates in our population going down because there’s a lot fewer individuals who can act as reservoirs for the virus. And ultimately, that’s our path forward and out of this pandemic.” He continued, “If we do assume that testing is directly related to a decrease in community spread, then we’ve prevented hundreds more from getting COVID and that translates to tens, or maybe dozens, more avoiding the hospital, and tens more from dying.”

Harrison said COVID-19 cases in students ages 12 to 17 have been plateauing or decreasing in recent weeks across the health department’s region while cases in students ages 5 to 11 have been seeing an increase in cases. He said it is likely due to an increase in vaccination rates among the older age group.