Revere Public School Superintendent Dianne Kelly has signed onto a letter to Mass Health and Human Service Secretary Marylou Sudders outlining a new pilot program Revere is participating in with neighboring school districts to address fear and anxiety in schools during flu season.
Revere has joined Chelsea, Somerville, Wellesley, Watertown and Brookline to launch the “Safer Teachers, Safer Students: Back-to-School SARS-CoV-2 Testing Collaborative Pilot,” to assess the feasibility and value of viral testing in the public school settings.
“Every school day this Fall, roughly 1 out of 90 children or staff in our public schools will be present with symptoms (cough, sore throat, etc) that partially overlap with those of COVID-19,” the letter to Secretary Sudders says. “Thus, each district in the Commonwealth must have access to testing capacity to identify those who are infected with SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) within 24 hours, such that districts can isolate individuals and reduce transmission.”
Kelly and the heads of the other school districts involved argue such testing will facilitate a quick return to school for those who are not infected, thereby preserving the workforce and reducing unnecessary quarantines.
“Furthermore, existing safety measures whose implementation is proposed are proving insufficient to reduce fear amongst teachers and parents given that they do not provide actual evidence of the number of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 cases in our public schools,” the letter continues.
This multi-district pilot program is the first of its kind in the public school setting, both in the State of Massachusetts and in the Nation and, if successful, the effort will demonstrate how to reduce fear and anxiety about return-to-school. The program could also pave the way toward ensuring that in-person public school K-12 learning can continue as long as possible while increasing the safety of both teachers and students.
“It will create a general framework that any town in the Commonwealth can follow,” said the letter.
Kelly and the other Superintendents said the goals of the program will be to:
• Ensure access to PCR-based testing with less than 24-hour turn-around times for all teachers, staff and students that are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and contacts of confirmed cases; this will enhance safety, and reduce unnecessary quarantine and out-of-school time;
• Pilot a surveillance infrastructure to test asymptomatic individuals in school buildings on a weekly basis so as to provide real time data to determine whether safety precautions are working or not; this will reduce fear and help schools stay open for in person learning as long as possible, even if a resurgence of cases occurs;
• Establish logistical proof-of-concept for testing such that any town in Mass is well-positioned to (a) implement a similar program and (b) quickly pivot to incorporating lower-cost tests and a broader based roll-out as such tests become available later in the Fall/Winter.
Kelly and the other superintendents are asking Secretary Stoddard to designate the collaborative as a State-supported pilot Program.
“This branding will help raise awareness and private funds for the program, and will ensure we can work with the State House hand-in-hand to ensure it is structured in a way to provide helpful guidance that can be acted on in December,” said the letter.
The group of school districts would also like the state to configure existing “Stop the Spread Sites” to support public schools in red districts. This public investment can be efficiently leveraged for public school teachers and students with minor modifications including courier services to schools and expedited routing of tests to laboratories that can turn around results quickly.
Revere and the other school districts would also like the state to create partnerships between every public school district and a local community hospital that will ensure expedited testing for symptomatic individuals.
Finally they are asking the state to require insurers operating in the state who cover public school teachers and K-12 students to reimburse costs of asymptomatic assurance testing.
“As costs of such testing drop, a clear strategy to ensure that all forms of SARS-CoV-2 testing are reimbursable will unleash waves of testing in public schools, which in turn will give each of them the very best chances of staying open as long as possible,” the letter concludes.