Schools Start Asymptomatic COVID Testing

by | Jan 14, 2021

The EG public schools will begin asymptomatic testing of students whose parents consent starting next week. The program began this week with around 50 staff members getting tested – there were no positives among those tested. 

The district held a virtual forum Thursday evening to explain the program and answer questions from parents (you can watch a video of that session HERE). The main components of the program are that it is voluntary and is not for people who have symptoms. The test – which was supplied to the district from the state at no direct cost – is the rapid BinaxNOW, which can be self administered for older students. Happily, there are no deep-nostril swabs necessary with this test, just front-of-the-nose swabs on both sides, and the results are available in around 15 minutes.

According to district pediatrician Howard Silversmith, the goal of asymptomatic testing is to be able to maintain in-person learning. Colleges and universities that did this type of testing during the fall semester were able to minimize virus cases by isolating people with no symptoms fast – before they had a chance to spread the virus to more people. “It’s surveillance testing to maximize in-person learning,” he said.

If someone tests positive (the BinaxNOW test is 98.5 percent accurate), they will be sent home and close contacts will be notified and sent home as well, just as when those with symptoms test positive. A negative result is only 76 percent positive, so it is not an absolute guarantee that the person does not have the virus, which is why those with symptoms or close contacts who want to get tested need to go through the state portal.

The goal for asymptomatic testing is to test between 10 percent and 50 percent of all students who have consent forms on a weekly basis but parents will only be notified if a student tests positive. 

Exactly how the tests will be administered in terms of groupings will vary from school to school. Some schools might test all of a grade level every Wednesday, say (that is, those who have consent forms on file) and others may do it on a more random basis. Students 11 and younger will have someone administer the test for them. 

While the virtual session was focused on the new testing plan, several parents had questions about the district’s quarantine policies, in particular, the difference between how the district handles “close contact” quarantines compared with travel quarantines. If a student (or staff member) is deemed a close contact, that person is required to stay home for 14 days from the point of contact, or 10 days if they get a negative test after day 7 of quarantine. Those who travel to a state with a 5 percent or higher positive rate are required to quarantine for the full 14 days, with no test-out option. 

“Travel seems to be one of the biggest ways to be exposed,” Silversmith said. “If you are somewhere else, you have a lot less control over your exposure. And, the state is discouraging non-essential travel as much as possible.” 

If you have been identified as a close contact, you will be monitoring yourself more closely than someone who’s been out of state and is assuming they have not been exposed, he said.

“It’s very clear we’ve treated both exposures differently. The message coming down from the state is we should be discouraging non-essential travel as much as possible,” said Silversmith.

One other question about quarantine centered on the district’s decision to require a 10-day quarantine. The state has offered three tiers of quarantine: the 14-day “gold standard, a 10-day with a test after 7 days, or a 7-day with a test after 5 days. According to Frenchtown nurse-teacher Bonnie Brayton-Simmons, the district opted for the 10-day quarantine based on the science. 

“The chance of transmission was 15 to 20 percent with a 7-day quarantine and less than half a percent after 10 days,” she said. The added safety would cost only a couple extra days of distance learning. 

Consent forms will be sent out Friday, Supt. Alexis Meyer said, and will be available on the district’s website. 

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