Test-to-Stay is Here to Stay, For Now

Protocol allows students to avoid quarantine

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and New York State have both endorsed a “test-to-stay” program that will be put into place when public schools reopen in January, after winter break. 

The protocol allows students who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 to take daily rapid-result tests. Students who test negative can stay in school and avoid the 10-day quarantine that had been the standard after exposure. 

School positives 21-22New York State has purchased millions of rapid tests that it said will be distributed to county health officials. A handful of counties, however, including Dutchess, began implementing test-to-stay in their schools earlier this fall. 

Putnam County also announced on Dec. 23 that its school districts will have the opportunity to implement test-to-stay in the new year. Details are still being developed, the county said. 

At Haldane, Superintendent Philip Benante said that even with the district’s relatively few positive cases, he anticipates initiating the protocol once the county begins distributing tests. “Our goal is to afford students every opportunity to attend school in-person,” Benante said. 

In a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul on Dec. 17, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said that hundreds of students had already benefited from test-to-stay, which “provides increased information about the health status of exposed students — effectively creating a targeted surveillance testing program with parental consent.”

A Dutchess County representative said this week that it had received around 11,000 test kits from the state in December. The kits, which are similar to the rapid tests available over the counter at drugstores, were distributed to schools and municipalities based on population. Another delivery of rapid tests was expected by the end of this week, she said.

Earlier this month, the CDC released the results of studies that suggest the number of COVID-19 infections had remained stable, or decreased, in pilot test-to-stay districts. It called the protocol “another valuable tool in a layered prevention strategy” that includes vaccination, masks in schools and better ventilation. 

Hochul voiced her support for the strategy in a Christmas Eve address, saying that students must be given a chance to stay in school. 

“We all saw the negative impact [remote learning had] on the growth of children in terms of their educational development, but also emotionally what this did to everybody from kindergartners up to high school kids,” she said. 

When students return next month “there’ll be tests waiting for them, that they can take them home in their backpack,” the governor said. 

Naysayers

The Beacon school board continues to hear from two teachers who vehemently oppose the COVID-19 vaccine. Joy Bonneau, a special education teacher at Glenham Elementary, has appeared at nearly every board meeting in the last four months.

Laurie Malin, a science teacher at Rombout Middle School, has also appeared at meetings to denounce the vaccines.

On Dec. 13, Bonneau accused board members of ignoring her. “Do I make you feel uncomfortable with the information that I share?” she asked. Bonneau asked the district to stop holding vaccine clinics, saying that people in other communities have committed suicide after being “injured” by vaccines. “I am very, very saddened by this district rushing into using this vaccine that is new, different” and was approved using data from clinical trials that “have just been blown through.”

Bonneau said she had verified her claims through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS, a website that compiles unverified self-reports of side effects. Numerous health experts have debunked the site as a source of misinformation, but Jasmine Johnson, a board member, said she agreed with Bonneau.

“Working in a pharmacy, I do know about statistics and numbers, and there are side effects to everything,” Johnson said. Vaccines “might work for some people and they might not work for other people. That is a real thing. I don’t disagree with anything that she’s saying.”

Board President Meredith Heuer said she didn’t “necessarily agree with the sources that [Bonneau] is using or her opinion,” but respected her right to voice it.

The Beacon school district began test-to-stay during the second week of December using kits provided by Dutchess County. It has partnered with Village Apothecary, a Woodstock pharmacy that has also facilitated its vaccine clinics, to run the program from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. each day at Beacon High School. 

Superintendent Matt Landahl told the Beacon school board during its Dec. 13 meeting that 10 to 15 students were being tested each morning. On Tuesday (Dec. 28) he said that number had risen to 30 to 40 every day. 

“It’s a common-sense way of keeping kids in school,” Landahl said. With the highly transmissible Omicron variant circulating, “we imagine that we’re going to have this need for quite some time.”

The Beacon program differs from what Hochul described in that a school nurse notifies the parents or guardians of students who have been exposed to an infected person. With permission, the students can test at school in the morning. 

A negative result allows the student to stay in school but does not apply to sports or other extracurricular activities. According to state guidelines, exposed students must still sit out after-school activities for 10 days. 

Landahl said he hopes to expand the program in January so that students who are exposed outside of school can make an appointment for a rapid test. The district believes it will receive enough test kits to provide the service for the school year, he said. 

Beacon parent Elizabeth Greenblatt, whose daughter attends South Avenue Elementary, said her family had a COVID exposure over the weekend after Thanksgiving, before the test-to-stay program had been implemented, that forced her daughter to quarantine at home. But after a second exposure this month, “it made a huge difference to be able to test and go to school,” she said in an interview. “We’re very grateful for the program.”

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4 thoughts on “Test-to-Stay is Here to Stay, For Now

  1. There is not enough testing is available to make this an effective strategy for schools. At-home tests are scarce and many families don’t have access to immediate testing. There will be a surge as students get back to school after the break. There is a large subset of the student population that is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration to be boosted yet [as of last week].

    What’s the harm in going remote for the first two weeks, allowing the surge to crest, allowing time for the FDA to approve the booster for 12- to 15-year-olds, and then returning to school without further disruption? [via Facebook]

    • What’s the harm? There is huge mental-health harm caused by children going remote. Plus, many parents can’t take off work. [via Facebook]

  2. How can we rely on at-home tests when so many parents consistently send their sick children to school? Students would arrive to school with fever, coughs, etc., before the pandemic. What makes districts think this would be any different? Some people don’t care about anyone or anything else besides themselves. [via Facebook]

  3. Scientists at the Princess Elizabeth Antarctic science lab had an outbreak of the Omicron variant. Before arriving, they had to be vaccinated and follow a stringent and lengthy isolation and testing protocol, yet it hit two-thirds of them, according to news reports.

    What does this tell us about all our expensive, impractical and soul-crushing efforts? At best, they postpone the inevitable. If highly motivated scientists following all guidelines to a T are not able to avoid it, how can the rest of us? Open the schools and allow nature to dictate to us. We cannot dictate to nature.

    By the way, those scientists had the option of being flown home, but given the mildness and self-limiting nature of their symptoms, have chosen to stay and continue their work. [via Facebook]

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