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Health Department Should Give ‘Test-To-Stay’ Policy A Chance

One over-arching lesson learned during the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance of having children physically attending schools.

It’s a lesson learned whenever we hear educators talking about students not performing as well on school developed diagnostic testing, when we hear school counselors talk about the issues they’re seeing with children readjusting to the in-school environment or when we see state test scores that show precipitous drops in student achievement when compared to pre-COVID results.

Mandatory 10-day quarantines for children who are a close contact of a child with COVID-19 create a whole host of issues, particularly for children who were already struggling to readjust to a full day of classes.

We think state Health Department officials have heard that complaint from some school districts and parents too. Last week, the state Department of Health released a memorandum allowing local health departments to approve the use of test-to-stay procedures.

The positives of testing to stay in school are simple – a child who is a close contact of someone with COVID-19 could stay in school if they have a negative COVID-19 test every day until they are no longer at risk of developing the virus. That means more children spend more time in school instead of missing out on valuable learning and development time. It could also make life much easier on parents who have a hard time finding child care on short notice.

But testing to stay isn’t without its problems. Perhaps most important to families is the unpleasant thought of giving young children a COVID test every day for the better part of two weeks. Massachusetts, which has implemented test-to-stay, has seen demand outpace the ability of schools to give the tests, prompting Massachusetts’ Gov. Charlie Baker to use the National Guard to help conduct testing. And, only half of schools that signed up for test-to-stay systems have actually been able to implement the system. There is an additional cost as well – though one would think all of the stimulus money that has flowed from the federal government should be able to pay for the daily testing.

We’re not saying test-to-stay is a panacea. But it deserves study and public discussion by the county Health Department and area school districts.

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