Haverhill Public Schools will no longer perform COVID-19 pool testing, but instead will switch to weekly at-home testing for students and staff.
The decision follows last week’s announcement by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education of a program wherein schools may opt-in to an alternative program that eliminates the need for contact tracing, pool testing and the “test and stay” policy. School Director of Health Services Katie Vozeolas gave School Committee members the rationale last night.
“The concept is that school districts that opt-in, parents and staff will get a home kit with two tests for each child or each staff member, and you would test once a week and that the district would, in turn, would stop contact tracing and test and stay,” she explained.
Vozeolas said data shows transmission in schools has been very low and this new procedure reflects a shift in the approach to battling COVID-19. She said this change will allow schools to beef-up testing for people showing symptoms of the disease.
The new program does allow schools to continue pool-testing along with the home tests. Haverhill Public School Physician Dr. John Maddox, however, said he doesn’t believe the extra steps are necessary.
“I’m very excited about this new testing change. I would also encourage you to consider eliminating pool testing and there’s a couple reasons. Number one is when you do a pool test, don’t do a test for a few weeks after you’ve had COVID because it can stay positive for a while. So, we’re taking asymptomatic people who are wearing a mask all day and we’re doing a PCR test on them and then, when they’re positive, we’re pulling them out of school. The at-home test is the rapid antigen test and it is a much better indication of contagiousness,” he said.
Maddox said although nurses will do whatever is required of them, this new procedure goes a long way towards easing their burdens.
The Committee voted unanimously to implement at-home testing and voted 4-3 in favor of discontinuing pool testing, with Committee members Scott W. Wood Jr., Toni Sapienza-Donais and Mayor James J. Fiorentini opposed.
School Superintendent Margaret Marotta said the changeover will likely take about two weeks to implement.