Preparations for a PCR test in a primary school class (archive picture)
Photo: Sina Schuldt / dpa
Last Wednesday morning, the time had come when the test concept for the safety of students in the corona crisis had vanished into thin air. At least at a primary school in Munich: at 8:51 am, the parents received an email from the school management with the subject line “Laboratory overload - no pool test evaluation”. This is what an affected father tells SPIEGEL. "Dear parents, a lot of the pool tests from yesterday's day have not been evaluated up until now," says the letter that SPIEGEL has received. "The laboratories are very overloaded because of the high number of cases."
What the school management is describing in sober terms can also be interpreted as a collapse: the test system that was used to prevent or at least limit the spread of infections in schools no longer works.
And it is probably not an isolated case in the Bavarian capital.
In Bavaria, elementary school classes - similar to many other federal states - are asked to take part in a PCR pool test twice a week.
The children first do a lollipop test, each for themselves.
The test sticks with the spit are then placed in a shared container and examined in the laboratory.
If the virus is detected for a class, the children are tested individually.
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The advantage of this system: With a single PCR test you get a reliable overall result for an entire class.
If the result is positive, however, action must be taken quickly - therefore, according to a specification by the Bavarian Ministry of Culture, the pool test results should also be available by 7 p.m. on the same day at the latest, so that the affected classes are tested separately on the following day and infected children are not come to school more.
Sounds good in theory - it just no longer works reliably in practice.
"We submitted 14 PCR pool tests on Tuesday morning, and in the evening we only got results for four of them," reports the director of the Munich elementary school.
Even after the second test of the week on Thursday, not all results would have been available by Friday morning.
In fact, the original re-registration deadline of 7 p.m. can often no longer be kept, which is also confirmed by the Bavarian Ministry of Culture.
In a letter to all school administrators of elementary and special schools in the Free State, Ministerialrat Walter Gremm wrote on Tuesday that "there may be delays in reporting the results on the day of the test."
The reason is the high utilization of the laboratories.
The new re-registration date is therefore 10 p.m., the schools must ensure that the parents are informed immediately.
It is questionable whether that is enough.
In response to a request from SPIEGEL, the Munich Department for Education and Sport confirmed "that due to the increased increase in PCR tests, the duration of the evaluations has in some cases been delayed well beyond the planned deadline."
You heard that in individual conversations with schools.
However, if chains of infection are only detected several days late, the entire test concept would be obsolete.
The Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs responsible for carrying out the tests stated on request that it was correct "that there may be occasional late responses to the pool tests".
The delays in Munich, however, are due to a technical malfunction and not a systemic problem.
Therefore, temporarily »not all test results could have been transmitted as intended«.
That doesn't sound particularly convincing to the Munich headmistress. In September she was asked to send close contacts of infected children home on her own. Her conclusion: The city health department was apparently "already completely overburdened in September": "We school principals have since been unpaid field workers for the department and take on their actual tasks." Because of the very serious situation, she says, as the rector, she sometimes has to make her own decisions meet without waiting for instructions from the Ministry of Culture.
An attitude that the father from Munich would like from other school administrators.
"In our opinion, the situation is out of control and it has become irresponsible to force attendance," he says.
As things are going at the moment, "all children who are at risk for Long Covid in schools will probably be infected".
Because a vaccination recommended by the Stiko for the children does not yet exist.
So far, the Bavarian state government has continued to reject precautionary school closings.
"The whole of Bavaria will continue to have nationwide tests using the PCR pool test method at all designated schools throughout Bavaria," said the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs.