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SAN DIEGO — Rady Children’s Hospital plans to screen thousands of kids for COVID-19 through a partnership with county health officials, organizers said Wednesday.

The initiative is called the “COVID Collaborative for Children,” and will be available to local kids, their families and the medical staff that screen them. The hospital believes it can administer up to 2,000 tests each day through the program.

The service will be free and will especially target vulnerable communities, such as the foster system and families in southern San Diego County, where the virus’ impact has been disproportionately severe, Supervisor Greg Cox said.

The tests will be given in a variety of settings, but a primary way organizers hope to reach patients is by giving tests to all children who visit the hospital and its more than 20 outpatient clinics around the region, regardless of why they visited. The screening will be optional; parents can choose not to have their child tested.

There will not be appointments provided solely for testing, but the program does include an outreach program for specific communities, as mentioned by Cox.

Only 5.5% of COVID-19 cases in the county were for people ages 0-19 as of Tuesday, Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten explained, but how many children carry the virus without symptoms — and their role in spreading COVID-19 to others — is still not well understood. The potential role of kids as asymptomatic spreaders of the coronavirus is one reason behind the new initiative.

The county says there are roughly 790,000 children in the San Diego region.

“Widespread, continuous testing for COVID-19 is crucial to protect public health and the reopening of San Diego’s economy,” the county said in a statement about its latest screening push.

Read more about Rady’s work during the coronavirus pandemic by clicking here.