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Schuyler: County Would ‘Support’ Schools With Testing

Though Chautauqua County has not yet been designated as a microcluster zone — either yellow, orange or red — public health director Christine Schuyler said preparations are being made to help local school districts meet a potential on-site coronavirus testing requirement.

In a recent meeting of the county’s Board of Health, Schuyler explained that should the county enter a “yellow zone,” as designated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, schools would be required to test 20% of its students and staff.

To help meet that requirement, local health departments are required to allow schools to test under its limited service laboratory license, she said. If health departments are unable to do that, then officials must assist schools in finding another partner with which they can do so.

“Otherwise, the school would have to apply to be a laboratory themselves,” said Schuyler, who had discussed the issue with a number of superintendents last week.

She said the county’s legal department has looked into any potential liability issues that could arise should districts be allowed to test under the county’s laboratory license, saying that her department is committed to helping local schools but calling the governor’s mandate “terribly inappropriate or wrong.”

“The state really does not have the legal ground to say ‘You must let somebody test under your license’ because it isn’t really legal to do that — but we want to help out the schools,” she said. “We’ve always had a really good working relationship with BOCES and with the school leaders. We’re going to do all we can to support schools with this testing requirement if it comes to that.”

To meet the requirement, she said the county is looking at allowing schools to test underneath its limited service lab license. Resources are to be provided by the state Department of Health.

“We are looking at allowing the schools to test underneath our limited service lab license. We would function as the lab director and the lab,” she said of the tentative format.

“That would put the onus for the medical direction on the schools and school physicians, while we would oversee the testing process, training and that part of it.”

Schools, Schuyler said, then would be “responsible for the standing order in the sense of notifying patients of results.” The county has ID Now analyzers, which are rapid molecular coronavirus tests, that would be available. The state would also send additional Abbot BinaxNOW cards that also can read a test result.

“The research is mixed on the effectiveness of these point of care tests, but our role as a local health department will be to organize for that 20% requirement and then assist with the testing process,” Schuyler said.

Schuyler explained that the county has yet to work out all of the details, but that she feels “confident that we’ll be able to help support the schools as best as we could for this.”

District leaders are also welcome to partner with other private physician practices, hospitals or diagnostic treatment centers, like The Resource Center or The Chautauqua Center, to test underneath their practice’s or facilities’ license, Schuyler said.

“But that lab, if they don’t have community lab testing on their testing license, they would have to have a community testing license, plus they would have to add these tests to their waiver,” she said. “That entity, then, would be responsible for the lab director, the policies, the training and setting up of the testing. Also the lab is responsible for reporting into the state’s reporting system.”

She added, “It’s not just as simple as ‘Oh yeah, go test underneath my license,’ it’s a little more detailed than that. I think we’ll be able to work this out.”

School superintendents have been appreciative of the county Health Department for their assistance throughout the school year, Dr. Tariq Khan, board member, noted during the meeting.

“I just had a conversation with a few of the superintendents this week and they talked about how appreciative they are of the county health staff and their point of contact,” he said. “Essentially sometimes, these folks are getting calls from the county staff and the point of contact on the weekends so they have their ducks in a row for the weekend. Those students are not coming in on Monday and the quarantining is occurring.”

Schuyler said that she and Dr. Robert Berke, county physician, will meet with superintendents soon to go over the details of this plan.

In an interview last week, David O’Rourke, Erie-2 Chautauqua Cattaraugus BOCES district superintendent, commended the county Health Department for demonstrating and communicating “an intent to work very closely with school systems to plan ahead so that to the greatest extent possible if there is a yellow zone designation.

“They have said they will help us meet whatever testing requirements are necessary to maintain face-to-face instruction,” O’Rourke said. “That will have to happen on a district-by-district basis. But we are working in advance right now that we are as ready as we can be.”

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