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Many Area School Districts Welcome Test To Stay Option

Jamestown elementary students are pictured on the first day of class in September. Officials with several school districts say they support a “test to stay” policy, though the lack of supplies make the option difficult to implement. P-J photo by Katrina Fuller

With a focus on keeping children in school, officials with several districts report they would be open to a “test to stay” policy.

This policy would allow students or staff to return to school or work after a seven-day quarantine, as opposed to the standard 10-day quarantine, for close contacts to someone testing positive for COVID-19. However, the individual would have to test negative at that time and have shown no symptoms during the quarantine period.

The Chautauqua County Department of Health announced that as of Nov. 29, county residents who are a close contact of a COVID-positive person and are not vaccinated can be released after seven full days if a COVID test is administered and tested on Day Five after exposure is negative and no symptoms are reported.

Joseph Reyda, Bemus Point superintendent, said the decision is being made by the county whether school districts can participate in that policy.

“We’re watching it very carefully because it’s up to the county to determine whether or not they’re going to do it,” Reyda said. “From what I understand, it’s a system that would allow people to get out of quarantine a little earlier than the current mandatory 10 days. Anything that allows children to stay in school safely, I’m all for.”

At the moment, Reyda said the New York State Health Department has left it up to counties in the state to determine how and if they will institute the policy.

“I think the biggest hurdle facing Chautauqua County right now is testing,” he said. “They just can’t get them.”

Reyda said his district is looking at the policy and he believes there are many “positive points to it.”

Kevin Whitaker, Jamestown superintendent, said his district has two different types of the “test to stay” program they are looking at.

“The test to stay, or TTS, is something that is being piloted by a few different districts,” Whitaker said. “The decision-making body related to that is the county Health Department. In a couple of counties, they have decided that they’re going to try to pilot this idea, and the idea would be something like this: if you are a close contact, and you are asymptomatic, you can test every day to determine that you are still negative and asymptomatic. If that’s the case, then you can come back and you test every single day for a certain number of days and you don’t miss as much school because of being a close contact.”

Some issues that can impact this policy are the availability of testing materials and the number of resources available to provide those tests. Whitaker said another question that needs to be answered is: who pays for those tests?

Whitaker said there is another policy that seems similar that he calls the “Binax to Stay.” The Binax test is a rapid test that can be performed and results are available in 15 minutes, as opposed to being sent to a lab.

“Binax to stay is addressing an issue that we have been dealing with all year, and I’m sure schools all around the country and the state have been dealing with this, too,” he said. “You have a student who leaves home and they’re fine, and they come to school, and they’re fine. Then, at some point during the day, they feel like they’re coming down with something and maybe they have symptoms that could be related to COVID. They could report to a designated location in their building to be tested with a rapid test, and if that test comes back negative, they then can return to class as opposed to the current practice, which is if someone is symptomatic or potentially symptomatic, they need to be sent home and quarantined.”

Whitaker said with the current policy, the district is losing students for 10 days at a time, even if they just have allergies or another less serious ailment. He asked that parents in the Jamestown district take a look at a recent communication from the district and give their children approval to be Binax tested with the rapid test at school.

“Please provide consent for your child to be Binax tested with the rapid test so that if they end up with symptoms that are similar to COVID, they can be tested and determined positive or negative,” he said. “Determinations can be made right there and the student can go back to class — you don’t have to worry about leaving work and picking them up or navigating childcare for the next 10 days as they quarantine if they’re negative.”

Whitaker also addressed the community, adding that there is an increase occurring right now in the area as well as the rest of Western New York.

“I would just urge people to continue to be careful, please wear masks, and use all of the precautions that we’ve learned over the course of the past year and a half and really focus on those,” he said. “IT’s a tough time. This holiday season — thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years and also all the breaks in there with all the times spent with family and friends together — COVID is brutal. The Delta Variant is incredibly contagious, and the last thing we need is to lose a whole bunch of students from in-person instruction. We are trying to keep them in school.”

Maureen Donahue, Southwestern superintendent, said her district is just learning about the possible “Test to Stay” policy.

“We’ve just read that and we’re at very early stages of learning on how this is going to work,” she said.

Donahue said the county will be instituting the policy, and the district does not make a decision on that. “We’re just learning at what is in that,” she said.

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