Test-to-stay at schools to be implemented

In this September 2021 photo, students at Charles E. Riley Elementary prepare to enter the building on the first day of the 2021-22 school year.

OSWEGO — Oswego County public health officials announced Thursday they plan to implement a test-to-stay policy at local schools, which would shorten quarantine periods for students exposed to COVID-19 who don’t develop any symptoms and produce a series of negative tests.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines test-to-stay programs as those  that allow school-associated close contacts, who were masked at the time of possible exposure, to continue in-person learning during their quarantine period regardless of vaccination status. Instituting this program could help minimize absenteeism and learning loss due to COVID-19 isolation and quarantine protocols, according to a release issued by county officials.

“To implement test-to-stay (programs), large and consistent testing capacities are needed,” Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang said. “The Oswego County Health Department has reached out to school districts to coordinate and address resource needs, including dispersing grant funds for school testing and distributing over-the-counter testing kits.”

The announcement comes after the State Department of Health (DOH) issued a memo last Thursday outlining the responsibilities of local health departments in the event localities opt to institute test-to-stay programs.

Test-to-stay programs must test exposed individuals a minimum of three times during the seven-day period following exposure, unless recognition of the exposure is delayed or school breaks and/or weekends intervene, according to DOH guidelines. Exposed students remaining in school through test-to-stay programs will not be allowed to participate in sports or extracurricular activities and are subject to quarantine outside of school instruction.

 Under the updated DOH guidance for schools, health departments are tasked with assessing the local testing resources available and ensuring the opportunity to participate in a test-to-stay program is available to each school in the county. Health departments must also make sure schools remain current on reporting of all COVID-19 testing results and have written policies outlining the programs, according to the county’s release. Currently, the Oswego County Health Department is assessing testing resources, and will allow test-to-stay programs once these resources are “deemed adequate.”

These programs are not mandated by the state, according to the memo. The DOH memo also marks a reversal of course for the department, as they had previously issued guidance to local health departments back in October that allowed for implementation of test-to-stay programs in schools, but suggested the state wouldn’t directly recommend them.

Last week, Huang ruled out instituting test-to-stay programs, noting that the Oswego County Health Department did not have the testing capacity to support large-scale testing for all districts in the county.

Despite a surging wave of positive COVID-19 cases seen across the state, Gov. Kathy Hochul has affirmed during multiple press events this month that the state is not looking to close down schools. She has also said the state has bought and will distribute 2 million rapid tests to school districts in January to aid with test-to-stay programs. 

Oswego County has reported 514 new cases from Dec. 20-26. On Tuesday, the county reported that 221 of the 830 COVID-19 tests performed that day produced a positive result — or 26.63 percent.

 

The uptick in cases in the city of Oswego, alongside staffing shortages, caused Port City schools to transition to remote learning on Dec. 17. Oswego City School District (OCSD) Superintendent Mathis Calvin III told district families in a letter the district is eyeing a return to in-person instruction on Jan. 3.

 “Please know that we look forward to seeing all of our students “in-person” on Jan. 3,” Calvin said in a note to parents issued Thursday. “Should any parent or guardian have a question or concerns, they are encouraged to reach out to their school principal directly. Thank you for your time, patience and consideration of this information.”

 Calvin noted the district has received calls from parents interested in transporting students to and from school. 

“If parents wish to transport their children, the district has no objection to this,” Calvin said. “We only ask that you contact the transportation department to inform them of this change.”

The district’s transportation department can be reached at (315)-341-2900.