Mayo Clinic, Olmsted Public Health team up with Rochester Public Schools to scan the air for COVID

May 6—Several prominent organizations in Rochester are teaming up on a pilot project with the hopes of being able to detect positive cases of COVID-19 a little faster than normal.

On Tuesday, the Rochester School Board approved a research request from Mayo Clinic that ideally will be able to detect COVID-19 pathogens in the air. The board approved the study unanimously after discussing the proposal with representatives from Mayo Clinic, Olmsted County Public Health, and the company Thermo Fisher Scientific.

"We really over the past year have been on the forefront of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic," said Thomas Doerdelmann, from Thermo Fisher Scientific. "We have recently developed a new technology that complements the response that is already out there in the world."

For the study, there would be a device placed in five classrooms to test the air throughout the day. Officials would be able to tell later that same day whether or not there were COVID pathogens in the air. According to Mayo Clinic's Matt Binnicker, all the students in the classroom would receive a COVID test if the device detected pathogens.

During his presentation, Doerdelmann used an example of a call center in South Korea. In that case, an individual with COVID-19 entered the facility on Feb. 22. Two and a half weeks later, they had to close the facility because of the high number of cases of COVID-19.

"We don't want to find ourselves in a position where something like this happens within our learning environments," he said. "We believe we have a potential answer that can help contribute to preventing these things from happening in the future."

The study won't cost the school district anything, although the district could purchase the devices after the study is over.

"This is completely novel," said Graham Briggs, director of Olmsted County Public Health. "It's exciting because it's novel, but there are details we want to make sure we work out."

One of those details: Parents will be notified if their child is in a classroom that is part of the research study.