MEDWAY — Superintendent Armand Pires and Director of Wellness Dr. Ryan Sherman are pleased to share that the Medway Public Schools is exploring a COVID-19 Surveillance Testing initiative for students and staff.
The district is proposing a district-wide testing initiative that would provide regular COVID-19 testing for all students and staff for the remainder of the school year. As the district continues to move through its reopening plan, a comprehensive testing initiative would allow the district to enhance its risk mitigation efforts.
“Although Massachusetts continues to have low infection rates compared to other parts of the country, we know the virus is still present and remains highly transmissible,” Dr. Sherman said. “Safety measures such as mask wearing, physical distancing, symptom screening, ventilation and enhanced cleaning help to reduce the rate of transmission, but we recognize that we can’t eliminate all risk while still allowing some level of in-person learning. The proactive, consistent testing and tracing that would take place as part of this initiative, in combination with the implemented safety measures, would further enhance our efforts in reducing the risk of transmission in our schools.”
The district’s proposed surveillance testing program would be completed through pool testing. Pool testing involves grouping individuals into pools based on their interaction with each other at school. Pools at Medway would consist of a cohort of students, along with their teacher. The test would be conducted using an at-home administered nasal swab or saliva sample and then brought to school on a specified schedule to be turned in to a medical professional.
Once samples are received from all members of the pool, the samples are combined and the pool is processed and tested together as one. If the test results of the pool are negative, each individual sample in the pool is negative for COVID-19 at the time of the test. If the test results of the pool are positive, at least one individual in the pool is positive for COVID-19 and each individual sample would then be immediately and separately re-tested to identify the individual positive member(s) of the pool.
The pool testing method offers several advantages to the district. Pool testing is much more cost-effective than individual testing as an entire pool, predicted to be between 12-18 individuals, is tested as one resulting in less usage of testing reagents and equipment. In addition, pool test results would be expected within 24-48 hours.
Furthermore, testing would occur every other week which results in regular testing for students and staff across the district. This allows for the probable identification of positive tests from asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carriers that likely would have gone unknown and increased the potential transmission of the virus within the schools. The identification of these cases will allow the district to respond quickly to positive cases and take the necessary steps to help prevent the spread of the virus. Mitigating the risk of transmission may also provide a path toward increased in-person experiences for students.
“We’ve received positive feedback from many of the groups we’ve presented this initiative to thus far, and we are thankful for their support,” Superintendent Pires said. “The data that rigorous testing would provide will give us a continuous and accurate understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on our school community, allowing us to make informed, fact-based decisions that will help us to protect the health of our students and staff as we continue through the school year.”
One-half of the full population will be tested per testing occurrence, which results in 14 tests per person throughout the school year. The total expenses of this program could be as much as $675,000, but a final cost will not be known until the results for an RFP are returned to the district.
The district has some available funding from savings that occurred while school was closed for several weeks in the spring, as well as some financial support from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The district is also currently exploring potential partnerships for the program to cover the additional funding needed to support the initiative for the remainder of the school year. The next step is to move forward with an Invitation to Bid which will allow for the selection of a vendor for the initiative. Taking into account the vendor selection process and mobilization of the program, if the initiative moves forward, testing would be expected to begin in November.
Additional details on the district’s proposed program can be found here. Superintendent Pires and Dr. Sherman also shared the proposed initiative with the School Committee, which can be found here, and during a community webinar, which can be found here.
Community members are invited to fill out a brief, two-question survey, found here, to help the district gauge community interest in continuing to pursue the initiative.