Why is the school district planning to conduct COVID-19 testing on-site?
Testing of students and staff could soon be required in order to keep schools open in areas of New York State where COVID infection rates are rising and where communities have been designated by Governor Cuomo and the NYS Department of Health as areas requiring additional mitigation strategies. Many school districts in other parts of the state have been engaged in on-site COVID testing after being designated part of “micro-cluster” zones.
What is a COVID-19 Micro-Cluster zone?
Under New York State’s Cluster Action Initiative, the zones are defined as geographic areas – a zip code, census tract, city, town or region – with high COVID-19 infection rates based on positivity rates, daily new cases, hospitalization rates and hospital capacity. Micro-clusters are defined as Yellow, Orange, or Red Zones. If a school district is in one of those zones, schools will be required to conduct onsite COVID-19 testing for students and staff.
How does an area become designated as a yellow, orange or red zone?
Yellow Zone (least restrictive) is an area within New York state (city, town, zip code, etc.) with a 3% positivity rate over the past 10 days AND the cluster is in the top 10 percent for hospital admissions per capita over the past week and week-over-week growth in daily admissions.
Orange Zone (more restrictive) is an area within New York state (city, town, zip code, etc.) with a 4% positivity rate over the past 10 days AND includes hospitals that are at 85 percent capacity or more OR the Department of Health determines the area has an unacceptably high rate of hospital admissions.
Red Zone (most restrictive) is a geographic area (zip code, census tract, etc.) that is 21 days from its hospitals being at 90 percent capacity.
What do the zone designations mean as far as COVID testing in schools?
For schools to remain open in one of the three zones, the following must take place:
Yellow Zone: Schools in yellow zones must test 20% of in-person students, faculty and staff over the two-week period immediately following the yellow zone designation. If this testing shows a district positivity rate that is lower than 7-day positivity rate in the community, additional testing is not required. If the testing shows a district positivity rate that is higher than the yellow zone’s current 7-day positivity rate, the district will be required to continue to test 20% of in-person students and staff on a bi-weekly basis.
Orange Zone: Schools in an Orange Zone must test 20% of in-person students, faculty and staff over a one-month period following the zone designation. This testing must be spread out proportionately spread across the month with 10% the maximum/minimum to be tested biweekly.
Red Zone: Schools in a Red Zone must test 30% of in-person students, faculty and staff over a one-month period following the zone designation. This testing must be spread out proportionately spread across the month with 15% the maximum/minimum to be tested biweekly.
Has our area been designated as one of these zones?
As of January 4, 2021, no. However, data collected by the Columbia County Department of Health indicates our community could be designated as one of these micro-cluster zones in the future.
What test would be used in schools and who would administer the tests?
New York State is providing school districts with COVID-19 rapid tests. Specifically, they will be providing Abbott’s BinaxNOW COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Test, which will be administered by school nurses to students for whom we have received prior parent/guardian consent. The test involves inserting a small swab, like a Q-Tip, into the lowermost portion of the nostril. This is a quick nasal swab test of both nostrils and is NOT the deep swab nostril test that is performed at medical facilities and other testing sites. More information about the BinaxNOW test can be found here.
How do I consent to have my student(s) tested at school?
There is an online parent/guardian consent form for you to fill out for your student(s). This form will be sent to you in a separate email on Wednesday, Dec. 30. Students will not be tested without parent/guardian consent.
Why is the rapid antigen test being used?
The rationale for using the rapid test instead of the PCR test is that testing will be done on students and staff who are asymptomatic. Rapid tests detect protein fragments specific to the Novel Coronavirus and are non-invasive for students & staff (ie: not deep sinus tests). PCR tests detect RNA (genetic material) that is specific to the virus and are the “deep sinus” variety, plus they have a longer turnaround time than the rapid test. The rapid test results are available in 15 minutes.
What if my child has symptoms of COVID-19? Will they be able to be tested?
No. The rapid antigen test used at BC will not be used as a diagnostic tool. Students will be screened for symptoms prior to testing. Parents of students who are exhibiting symptoms are urged to contact their child’s health care professional for further evaluation and possible diagnostic testing. Students who have family members who are symptomatic and are awaiting COVID diagnostic test results are urged to stay home.
Is there a cost for students or staff being tested on-site?
No. All costs associated with the in-district testing will be covered by the state and district. If you choose to get a COVID-19 test on your own through a different medical provider, you would be responsible for any cost.
How long is the testing process expected to take?
The entire process of explaining the test to the child and then performing the swab test generally takes only a few minutes.
When will this onsite testing begin?
There is no mandate in place that requires the Taconic Hills Central School District to begin testing. However, we want to be prepared if it becomes necessary to perform testing to keep our schools open. With enough parent consent, we will be ready to begin testing when notified.
How many people need to be tested each week to keep school open?
If Taconic Hills is within a micro-cluster zone, we will be required to test a minimum of 20% to a maximum of 30% of in-person students and school staff. With our current in-person enrollment, this would mean testing approximately 950-1,425 individuals. If we do not meet the mandated NYS testing requirements under the zone regulations outlined above, it is likely we would need to switch to full remote instruction.
How do you decide which students and staff to test?
Staff will be required to participate in random testing and will be selected at random. Students would only be chosen from the group of students whose parents/guardians have already consented. Availability and schedule will also be a consideration in deciding who to test to minimize any disruption to instruction.
How will I be notified if my child has been selected to be tested?
As with all important districtwide notifications, you will be contacted via email if you or your child is selected to be tested. Parents are encouraged to make sure that their contact information in the Parent Portal is up-to-date. If you need to update this information, please contact your school office.
How can I help prepare my child for the test (especially for younger children)?
You should talk to your child about the testing and watch this video together. We encourage you to tell them that health professionals at school are going to do a test for the virus by rubbing a small cotton swab inside the front part of their nose. Let them know that the health professionals will need to wear special protective equipment to keep themselves and others safe during the testing process. This will include a face mask, eye goggles or face shield, an outer gown, and gloves. Please let your child know that they will need to wear their face covering for the testing procedure and will take it off for a few minutes so that the test can be done. Then they can put their face covering back on. (Parents should also wear a face covering as they interact with the health professional during the testing procedure). Remind your child that it’s okay that the school performs this test and that it’s quick, safe, and gentle.
What if I prefer to get my child tested offsite?
You have the option to get your child tested by your health care provider or at any testing site. In order for those tests to count toward the mandated NYS 20% or 30% thresholds, results need to be provided to your school nurse within a week. If it is your intention to test offsite, please notify the school and indicate when your child will be tested.
If I do not consent to testing, will my student be forced to switch to full remote instruction?
No, your child can continue to be part of the in-person learning model as long as we have enough volunteers for testing. However, if we do not reach the 20% or 30% mandated benchmarks, all students may need to switch full remote instruction.
If I don’t consent now, will I have an opportunity to reconsider?
Yes. Depending on the number of parents who initially consent to onsite testing, we may need to ask for more volunteers for future testing if/when the district is designated as being in a micro-cluster zone. If that happens, we will send further communications asking families to consent.
What happens if a student tests positive?
If your child tests positive for COVID-19 you will be notified the same day by phone. You will be directed to contact your child’s healthcare provider to discuss the positive test results and the possible need for additional diagnostic testing. The district will also contact the Columbia County Department of Health to report your child’s positive test result. Your child will need to remain at home until they are cleared to return to school per Columbia County Department of Health regulations.
Will families of students who test negative be provided with those test results? If so, how long will it be until those results are received?
Parents of students who test negative will be emailed within 24-48 hours of their child’s test.
I have questions about this testing plan. Where can I get more answers?
You are encouraged to reach out to your child’s school nurse if you have questions regarding COVID-19 testing.