The Beaverton School District will begin weekly lab tests for COVID-19 to try to catch asymptomatic cases and prevent outbreaks. Students in K-5 and K-8 schools whose families chose to opt in to the program will receive their first test kits next week. According to BSD Executive Administrator for Student Services Danielle Hudson, about 47% of those students are enrolled in the program so far. We hear from Hudson about the challenges of weekly screen testing and why some families are opting out.
The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Geoff Norcross: From the Gert Boyle studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Geoff Norcross. School districts around the country are grappling with the very difficult question of how to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in their schools. Testing is a major part of their strategy. But there are tons of questions. Do you make testing mandatory? Do you use a test-to-stay model? What do you do with the results? Next week, the Beaverton School District, one of the largest in the state, will begin a program for testing its students. It’s not mandatory and parents will have to opt in. Here to talk about the program is Danielle Hudson, the Executive Administrator for Student Services in the Beaverton School District. Danielle Hudson, welcome to Think Out Loud.
Danielle Hudson: Good afternoon, Geoff.
Geoff Norcross: We’ll talk about how the test works in a minute. But first why make this an opt-in program?
Danielle Hudson: Well really it’s guided through OHSU. So we’re working in collaboration with them. It’s a program through the federal government and through that the parents have to decide if they want their child to participate in the program. So that is why it’s an opt-in and not a mandatory program.
Geoff Norcross: Could you have made it mandatory or opt-out instead of opt-in? Was that not an option?
Danielle Hudson: It was not an option because we have to get parent consent to participate in the program. It really becomes a medical procedure, almost, in terms of having that permission from the parents to say yes, we’re willing for you to collect a sample of our child’s saliva and then test it.
Geoff Norcross: Other school districts don’t seem to be as encumbered. Is this a state law issue?
Danielle Hudson: It has been what we’ve been directed by OHA, the Oregon Health Authority as well as OHSU.
Geoff Norcross: How many families are opting in?
Danielle Hudson: So as of right now we have only got consents back for our elementary schools and K-8s. At this point we have about 6100 students who will start participating. That’s about 39% of our elementary students who have enrolled in the program.
Geoff Norcross: That doesn’t seem like a lot to me. Do you expect more to come online?
Danielle Hudson: I think once the program gets started, we will see an increase in the number of families that choose to participate in the program. I think families are just a little hesitant and are wanting to see how it all works.
Geoff Norcross: Are you providing any incentives for the families to participate aside from knowing if their kid has COVID?
Danielle Hudson: We are not at this point.
Geoff Norcross: Ok. I understand you’re rolling this program out in stages, starting with elementary schools next week. Why are you doing that? Why are you starting with the younger kids?
Danielle Hudson: Well, we’re starting with the younger kids because they don’t currently have access to vaccines. So we wanted to make sure that individuals who haven’t been able to be vaccinated, that we can double check and see how they’re doing. Are they COVID positive or not? Plus in Beaverton we have 34 elementary schools. So it’s a pretty big project to take on. So working with OHSU and their system and then our school, it made sense to start with those who are unvaccinated in our elementary schools and then roll out to our secondary schools.
Geoff Norcross: Okay so broadly speaking, how will the testing plan work?
Danielle Hudson: Great, so what will happen is we have a set up with OHSU and they will send us a certain number of test kits to each site along with coolers and ice packs to store all of the samples. Then what will end up happening is the day before they pick up the test, so if a pickup day is on a Tuesday at a school site, students will go home on Monday with their test sample or test collection sample bag, they’ll go home, go to bed, then they’re supposed to wake up first, when they wake up first thing in the morning, they’re supposed to spit into a tube, close the tube and put it back in a biohazard bag and bring it back to school. And then OHSU will send couriers to our school sites to pick up those samples and then they will test the samples within 24 hours and we’ll notify the families and the local public health authority, if there are any students who tested positive.
Geoff Norcross: So why does the kid have to spit first thing in the morning?
Danielle Hudson: Because they don’t want the students to have any food or other kind of particles in their mouth. Because then when they run the test, it’s testing actually the food particles instead of the saliva. And so we can get false positives or false negatives. So they really want to make sure that the student hasn’t eaten or drank anything 30 minutes prior to their sampling.
Geoff Norcross: Makes me wonder what you would have for breakfast that might give you a false positive. When you do have a good, when OHSU I should say, does have a good clean sample? What are the kits specifically testing for?
Danielle Hudson: They are testing for COVID-19 virus within the saliva. Apparently that, when they run the tests, they can identify aspects of COVID-19 in the saliva. So it’s just one of the other tests, instead of doing the nasal swab through the spit, they can determine it there as well.
Geoff Norcross: I understand that if he gets a positive test, they notify the parents of the student and then it’s on them to notify the district. Now I understand you’re dealing with sensitive medical information here, but was there any way to make it so the district could be notified directly?
Danielle Hudson: We did ask for that, but ultimately it comes down to HIPAA restrictions and sharing student medical information. And typically in the process with the hospitals, when a student is found positive, so even if they went to their Walgreens or they went to their physician and got a test, the family is notified and then the Public Health Authority and then the Public Health Authority notifies the school to initiate contact tracing. So that they want to make sure that the Public Health Authority knows and then they direct us at the school to initiate close contact.
Geoff Norcross: If there is a positive test result, what happens to the kid?
Danielle Hudson: Yes and I think this is one of the things that might be why parents are a little bit hesitant to participate. If a student does test positive, they’re going to have to isolate. And since the student is asymptomatic, traditionally, they’ll end up having to isolate for 10 days because we didn’t know when they became positive, which is different than someone who is symptomatic. Usually we know when the symptoms started. So the student will have to isolate for 10 days and then we will have to initiate contact tracing to determine all the individuals that student came into close contact with. And those students will then need to quarantine for 10 days following their last interaction with the positive case.
Geoff Norcross: What about siblings who might also go to the district?
Danielle Hudson: Siblings as well will need to quarantine and this is a tricky part. So it’s really important when we isolate, when we tell someone they need to isolate, they truly isolate from others, meaning that they are not coming into contact at all with unvaccinated individuals and you know, as a family that can be tricky if you have a five year old who tested positive to say you’re going to stay in your room and you’re not going to interact with your siblings. Because what ends up happening then is the sibling has to quarantine throughout that isolation of their positive sibling, but then they have to quarantine even longer. So their actual official quarantine begins the last day of their interaction with their isolated siblings. So it’s really important that when we have a student in isolation that they truly isolate, or else they’re siblings could almost be out of school for up to 20 days.
Geoff Norcross: Are you concerned that with this testing, a lot of kids are going to be spending a lot of time in quarantine now?
Danielle Hudson: It is definitely something we’ve been discussing as a school district. We talked about it recently at a board meeting. We do anticipate that we might see a spike in isolations and quarantines in the district because traditionally the students we are isolating and then as a result having to quarantine other students are students who are symptomatic. So they’re demonstrating some primary symptoms of COVID-19 and then getting a test. Through the weekly testing program, we will be identifying students who don’t have any symptoms of COVID-19 and we may not have otherwise known that they were carrying the disease and possibly spreading it to their peers.
Geoff Norcross: Does your approach to testing or your calculations about who to test change based on the demographics of individual schools?
Danielle Hudson: Well what we found is, we have offered up access to the program to all of our families. We’ve really made an effort to make sure the families have access to the testing information in their native languages, and really trying to reach out to get all of our students to enroll. But what we found is the highest percentage of enrollment is at our non-title schools with the top 10 enrollments, participation being at non-title schools. Whereas our lowest percentage of students who have enrolled in the program, are at our title schools. So 9 out of 10 of our schools with the lowest enrollment are Title 1 eligible schools.
Geoff Norcross: Okay, well, you’re rolling out this program next Monday, which just happens to be the same day that all school staff in Oregon have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or they could lose their jobs. I was wondering if you could give me some idea of the percentage of your staff that is vaccinated at this point.
Danielle Hudson: So at this point, we have about 96.73%, of our staff vaccinated. And then on top of that, we have about just over 3% of staff who have qualified for either religious, medical or pregnancy deferment exemptions. So we’re really looking at a small number of staff who have not submitted documentation to the district about requesting either an exemption or showing proof of vaccination status.
Geoff Norcross: Danielle Hudson, thanks so much for your time. It was good to talk to you.
Danielle Hudson: Thank you.
Geoff Norcross: Danielle Hudson is the Executive Administrator for Student Services in the Beaverton School District. We’re talking about a plan to test students in the district for COVID-19.
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