Winter is coming — and with it, the possibility of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic that’s as disruptive as the one in the spring of 2020. Many school districts have surpassed expectations in their ability to control the virus on campus through a combination of smart scheduling, safety upgrades and rules demanding the use of personal protective equipment.
But as we approach the holidays, the anxiety is building. Some schools are making the move to hybrid learning for the first time, while others that have been closed all along wonder whether it’s feasible any longer to re-open. Parents and caregivers who re-established a long-lost sense of normalcy in their work routines when schools opened in September are now faced with the frustrating reality that they may need to stay closed after Thanksgiving. A lack of predictability has meant a lack of stability in people’s home and work lives.
To date, the federal government has largely delegated decisions on school coronavirus testing, monitoring and reporting procedures to the states and local decision-makers. As a result, the approaches to handling COVID-19 have varied widely across the country, and even from school district to neighboring school district.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently enacted a pair of bills that immediately broaden the requirements for schools to report COVID-19 health information. Among the legislation’s impacts, a school that learns of a potential exposure must share the news with its employees, subcontractors and relevant union representatives within a day; impacted employees must receive information about COVID-19 benefits they’re entitled to as well as what steps are being taken to disinfect the facilities and make them safer; and local public health agencies must be notified of “outbreaks” (defined as three or more confirmed or probably positives within a two-week period) within 48 hours. In addition, the law imposes requirements for schools to record data including the dates of positive test results and the number of employees working on-site on the date of a positive test.
STOPit Solutions recently introduced a technology that can help schools in California and elsewhere meet such reporting and monitoring requirements – the SafeScreen Health Reporting System. SafeScreen is a HIPAA-compliant health reporting system that screens-out and alerts users of possible COVID-19 exposed or symptomatic individuals before they set foot in a school building or bus.
The data gathered by those answering the system’s Health Screener questions each day is stored securely in the cloud and can be used to spot critical trends, such as spikes in illnesses. The system is also highly customizable, allowing school administrators to add their own questions of significance or send important messages to users.
Below is a snapshot of some of the innovative COVID-19 testing and reporting measures that have garnered states and local jurisdictions headlines in recent days.
NEW YORK CITY: The nation’s largest school district began a random testing program in October that could serve as a model for other cities. The plan calls for between 10 and 20% of the district’s 1.1 million student body to be tested each month, with participation voluntary. So far, the results have been promising, with fewer positive cases being detected than many expected. Some believe the data could encourage parents who held their kids out for the remote schooling option to send them back, helping the city step closer toward recovery.
NEW YORK STATE: Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order demanding that doctor’s offices, hospitals and medical labs that are testing patients for COVID-19 or the flu must notify the state if they attend or work in a school. The medical providers must share the test result and the name of the patient’s school within three hours. The data is being collected for public dissemination through New York’s COVID-19 Tracker and School COVID-19 Report Card, which can be used to inform decision-making.
TEXAS: Eight school districts will pilot the use of testing kits funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that can determine within 15 minutes whether a student or faculty member is infected. The Governor’s Office said it will leave it to the school districts to determine the best strategy for deploying the nasal swab tests, although it did note that any testing must be voluntary. That would place the pilot project in line with recently updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines which contain a controversial line stating that it is “unethical and illegal to test someone who does not want to be tested.”
MASSACHUSETTS: The Somerville Public Schools plan to embark on a partnership with Tufts University to conduct “pooled testing” of students when it begins its phased reopening in December. The Boston suburb has been hard hit by the virus and has been providing all virtual instruction since the beginning of the school year. The testing method allows samples from eight students to be analyzed simultaneously, yielding a significant cost reduction vs. conducting eight lab tests. If a positive result is detected, the eight students who provided samples will be re-tested individually to find out which one was sick. The schools are also undergoing a $7 million ventilation upgrade in advance of the re-opening.
NEVADA: Seeking to make its faculty feel more safe and confident in the classroom, the Carson City School District is set to embark on a multi-prong testing and monitoring plan called Task Force Initiative for Educator’s Safety and Screening (TIES). First, all educators will be offered free rapid testing at a pair of drive-through events. With the health of its staff assured, the district aims to help them preserve it with a mobile app designed to identify, track, and manage COVID-19 symptoms and exposures through short and simple self-screening check-ins.
More Information on SafeScreen
To learn more about how SafeScreen can keep your school or organization COVID-free, visit our SafeScreen Program page or thorough FAQs page. Contact STOPit with additional questions or to arrange a demonstration by calling 855-999-0932 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.