Test To Stay expands to all Saratoga County schools

A box of COVID rapid at-home testing kits are shown in this photo taken Jan. 6.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

A box of COVID rapid at-home testing kits are shown in this photo taken Jan. 6.

BALLSTON SPA — Saratoga County on Monday expanded the COVID Test To Stay protocol to all schools in the county after a trial period showed significant benefits for South Glens Falls schools.

Test To Stay allows students who are exposed to an infected person to stay in school if they test negative and show no symptoms, rather than be automatically quarantined. 

In-school education is favored over remote learning in official policy and is also the preference of many educators and parents. 

The testing that makes in-school instruction safer has become easier to accomplish with the at-home, self-administered test kits that school districts are distributing by the thousands.

The Test to Stay pilot program in the South Glens Falls Central School District was run in partnership with the federal Centers for Disease Control and was the first of its kind in the state.

“We started Test to Stay about two months ago,” South Glens Falls Superintendent Kristine Orr said Monday.

There have been many students infected with COVID in that period, she said. They’ve had to switch to remote learning until the infection clears their system, but their classmates have not — if they tested negative.

A total of about nearly 500 students enrolled in Test to Stay during the pilot phase who otherwise would have had to go into quarantine because of proximity to an infected classmate were able to stay in school with the testing protocol. (Four eventually tested positive.)

With student quarantines running 3 to 5 days each, that’s roughly 1,400 to 2,400 student-days in the classroom rather than at home on an Internet link.

Parents of about 95% of South Glens Falls students have consented to Test To Stay, Orr said.

Saratoga County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Daniel Kuhles said in a news release that the pilot program showed the value of Test To Stay as part of a multilayered prevention strategy.

“Notably, the pilot was conducted during a period of high COVID-19 community transmission, which further demonstrates that kids are safer in schools than in most other settings,” he said.

Shenendehowa and other school districts across the county will start Test To Stay this week.

Shen, which at 9,200 students and 154 employees is the county’s largest school district, is excited about the benefits, spokeswoman Lindsay Valenti said Monday.

School nurses have been performing the testing, and there were mornings when they were overwhelmed by the numbers involved. 

“Testing at home is definitely going to help,” she said. “We handed out about 7,000 test kits last week.”

Shen is currently running at about 10% student absenteeism, spread more or less equally across all grades, Valenti said. Normal would be about 4%

Classrooms — where children are masked and sit three feet apart — aren’t the most likely transmission zones for children in school, Valenti and Orr said. School buses, cafeterias and extracurricular settings are riskier.

Schools are seeing an uptick in infections during the current COVID surge in the communities around them. Some districts maintain their own online dashboard tallying confirmed cases among their student body, others provide a link to a state dashboard that may not be exactly accurate — for example, Orr said South Glens Falls’ internally generated tally is different from the state tally.

As of Monday, the state dashboard showed significant numbers of recent infections in most of the districts, and showed a significant percentage of this school year’s infections coming in the last two weeks.

THE RULES

  • Saratoga County Public Health Services said participating districts and private schools must have a written policy that includes the following minimum requirements:
  • The close contact exposure(s) must have occurred during instruction at school or during bus transportation to or from instruction. Students whose exposures occurred outside of school instruction or bus transportation to or from instruction are not eligible.
  • Participating students cannot participate in extracurricular activities, including but not limited to sports, even when sponsored by the district/private school.
  • Parents/guardians must agree to keep their students at their location of quarantine when not at school.
  • Participating students are allowed to ride their regular bus to and from school and must follow all existing guidance, including required masking.
  • If the participating student develops symptoms, they must be immediately excluded from school.
  • Parents/guardians may administer school-supplied tests to their students and must not be charged for these tests. School staff is not required to perform testing.
  • Tests must be performed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions for use.
  • On days in-person learning is held, parents/guardians must agree to conduct and report the results of COVID-19 before the school day begins. If a test is required on a day that does not involve in-person learning, the parent/guardian must report by 1 p.m.
  • SCPHS has created a web portal to assist parents/guardians with reporting and schools with surveillance and data management.
  • Students with a positive COVID-19 test result must not be sent to school.
  • Students with symptoms of COVID-19 must not be sent to school, regardless of the test result.

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