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ICSD COVID-19 Surveillance Testing

Virtual Family Information Session

On December 30, Lily Talcott, ICSD Deputy Superintendent, and Kari Burke, ICSD Coordinator of Health Services and Wellness, hosted an information session for families on the district's new voluntary COVID-19 surveillance testing program. Lily and Kari provided an overview of the program and spent time answering folks' questions.

 

On January 4, 2021, the Ithaca City School District will begin a voluntary COVID-19 surveillance testing program for students and staff, using a non-invasive form of testing. On this page, you will find an overview of the program, along with the caregiver consent form and answers to frequently asked questions.

Program Overview

WHO: Although our district has not been identified as a Yellow Zone, as per the New York State Cluster Action Initiative, we will follow those guidelines and test 20% of in-person students and staff at each school over two-week periods. The testing is not mandatory, and staff/caregiver consent is required.

WHAT: The ICSD will use Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests, which are non-invasive nasal swabs. Antigen tests detect proteins from the virus that causes COVID-19 in respiratory specimens. New York State is providing the tests at no cost to the district.

WHERE: We will test students and staff at their school sites. Testing spaces will be determined in each building and communicated by Wednesday, December 23.

WHEN: Our surveillance testing will begin on Monday, January 4. Each week, elementary students will be tested on Mondays, and secondary students will be tested on Mondays and Thursdays (to ensure we test both cohorts of students) during 1st-period classes.

WHY: Surveillance testing for COVID-19 will allow us to quickly identify asymptomatic students and staff and begin the isolation process for these individuals. It will also allow students and staff within close contact to immediately return home, as they will be subject to quarantine by the local health department.

HOW: Staff and students selected for testing will swab the front of both nostrils for 5 seconds each (school nurses will swab students in grades PreK-1st) while being monitored by a trained observer. Nurses will then place each swab into a testing card, along with a reagent, and results will be available within minutes. If there are any positive cases within a classroom, all families and staff members of that class will be alerted and sent home as quickly as possible. View our flowchart to learn more about what happens when an in-person student or staff member receives a positive antigen test result.

 

Caregiver Consent Form

If you have not already provided consent for your child, please complete the testing consent form and return it to your child's school. Translated forms are also linked below.

Translated Forms
Arabic Japanese
Burmese Karen
Chinese - Simplified Korean
Chinese - Traditional Russian
French Spanish
 
 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q

Why implement a testing program?

A

The ICSD will conduct surveillance testing for COVID-19 to allow us to quickly identify asymptomatic students and staff within our communities and begin the isolation process for these individuals. It will also allow students and staff within close contact of the positive case to immediately return home, as they may be subject to quarantine by the Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD). All of these efforts will ultimately help our community slow the spread of COVID-19.

Q

What type of test will the district use?

A

The Abbott BinaxNOW test is an antigen test, which means that it detects specific proteins present in COVID-19. (PCR testing, on the other hand, detects the virus’ genetic material and is more reliable. Any positive result detected by the antigen tests will require follow-up PCR testing for confirmation.) The test is a simple, non-invasive nasal swab in the front of the nose. It is not the nasopharyngeal test, which requires a swab to go much further up the nasal cavity.

Q

How much does the testing cost?

A

New York State is providing the testing kits (which use a small cotton swab in the front of the nose) at no cost to the district. The testing is free for students and staff.

Q

When will testing occur?

A

The ICSD will begin on-site testing on Monday, January 4, and follow the same schedule each week: 
  • PreK - Grade 5: Mondays 
  • Grades 6 - 12: Mondays and Thursdays (to ensure both cohorts of students are tested) during 1st period*
*Testing may take slightly longer than 1st period during the first weeks of our testing program, so we’ll have yet another opportunity to be patient and flexible.

Q

Where will testing occur?

A

We will test students and staff for COVID-19 at their school sites. Testing spaces will be determined in each building and communicated by Wednesday, December 23. 

Q

Who will be tested?

A

Modeling our program New York State Yellow Zone requirements, we will aim to test 20% of in-person students and staff over each two-week period. Similar to other school districts that have implemented testing programs, we will test individuals within a given classroom at the same time. With rapid testing taking fewer than 20 minutes from collection to results, we can immediately notify staff and families if any positive cases arise, and send all affected individuals to their respective homes right away.

Q

Is the testing mandatory?

A

No, testing is not mandatory, and consent is required. Online permission forms (student-specific Google Forms) for in-person students to receive testing were sent to caregivers via email on December 20. Translated forms will be sent home in caregivers’ preferred languages. We will also send print copies home with students on January 4 and January 7, 2021, if their caregivers have not filled out the Google Form.
  Staff will provide consent when tested, and it will be voluntary. 

Q

What happens after testing?

A

Students and staff return to their classrooms while awaiting the test results.
  If there are any positive cases within a classroom, all families and staff members of that class (those who are positive and those who may be subject to quarantine) are alerted and sent home as quickly as possible. Students and staff are advised to schedule PCR testing if they receive a positive test result at school. PCR testing is done to confirm the initial result from the antigen testing.
  For staff and students who do not test positive, they/their caregivers will be notified via an email reading “undetected,” rather than “negative,” meaning that the test simply did not reveal the presence of proteins specific to COVID-19.
positive antigen case flowchart
Click to view our flowchart

A

Any positive PCR result is communicated to the Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) and the ICSD prepares to share with them the contact information of those who may be subject to isolation and quarantine, based on the results of confirmation testing. Additionally, the ICSD inputs all testing information, both positive and negative, into the statewide Electronic Clinical Laboratory Reporting System (ECLRS) each day.
 
If no one tests positive:
  • All staff and caregivers are notified by email that COVID-19 was “undetected” in their/their child’s test.
If a student or staff member tests positive: 
  • We immediately contact all caregivers of students in the cohort to pick their children up and notify all affected staff. Families and staff are contacted following a positive test result for one of two reasons: 
    • The student or staff member will likely be identified as a close contact of the positive case by the TCHD and placed into quarantine.
      OR
    • The student or staff member’s antigen test came back positive and they will need to contact their healthcare provider, seek PCR testing, and isolate until the PCR test results are complete. Any student or staff member that lives with the individual who tested positive is also sent home.
  • The building principal visits the affected class and talks with students and staff to let them know that there’s been a positive case and that they should pack their belongings to go home.
  • If the follow-up PCR test is positive, the cohort returns to in-person teaching and learning after the mandatory quarantine/isolation period is over. If the PCR test is negative, students and staff may return to in-person teaching and learning immediately.
  • Students and staff in the cohort engage in distance teaching and learning at home until they are permitted to return in person (after quarantine or following a negative PCR test).
  • We provide social-emotional resources to students and staff in the cohort.

Q

When and how will staff get their results?

A

Staff members will receive their results on the same day they get tested. They can receive these either verbally (more immediately), or via email.

Q

When and how will caregivers get their children's results?

A

If your child is positive, you will receive a phone call shortly after testing, and a paper document outlining your next steps when you pick them up. If your child is not positive, you will receive an email later that day indicating that the results were “undetected.”

Q

What happens if I don’t consent to my child getting tested?

A

All testing is voluntary; your child will not be required to be tested. We strongly encourage providing consent for testing as it is non-invasive and can support community health. Feel free to reach out to your child’s school nurse and/or principal if you have questions.

Q

What happens if I, as a staff member, don’t want to be tested?

A

All testing is voluntary; you will not be required to be tested. However, we strongly encourage you to participate, as it is a non-invasive test and can support community health. Feel free to reach out to your school nurse and/or principal or supervisor if you have questions.

Q

Why test 20% over two weeks?

A

Although the ICSD has not been identified as a Yellow Zone and is not required to engage in testing, we are following the same protocols outlined by the New York State Department of Health for Yellow Zones. Randomly testing 20% of in-person students and staff over two weeks allows us to begin to identify the prevalence of COVID-19 in our community and benefits individuals who may contract the virus later. For more information about this approach, visit Kasy and Teytelboym’s 2020 article titled “Adaptive targeted infectious disease testing” in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy.

Q

Why isn’t the ICSD testing everyone every week? 

A

Cost, along with staffing resources and time, makes testing every in-person staff and student at this time an impossibility. However, we know that any testing is better than none. Research indicates that the more we can test, the better, even if it is not a perfect strategy.

Q

How many people will be tested at each school, each week/day?

A

The ICSD will test 20% of each school’s or facility’s in-person staff and students over two-week periods. These individuals will be randomly selected by cohort, and testing will be voluntary. Each school will test approximately half of the 20% in-person population (outlined below) each week:
 
BS
BJM 
CAR 
CHES
ENF
FC
 NE 
47 41 39 46 26 37 56
 SH 
BOY 
DEW 
IHS
LACS
Tran
Fac
61 78 64 158 38 23 7
  For example, at Belle Sherman, 23 students and staff will be tested on the first Monday, and 24 students and staff will be tested the following Monday. At Boynton, 20 students and staff will be tested on the first Monday, and 19 tested the first Thursday; then 19 students and staff will be tested the following Monday, and 20 tested the following Thursday.
  This pattern will continue with different students and staff, until we have tested all who have provided consent, over approximately 10 weeks. We will then begin the process again.

Q

How will the ICSD decide which students will be tested? 

A

Each building has randomly generated an order for cohorts or first-period classes. Utilizing this order, we will pull classes/cohorts together at a time to test, along with the staff that work with them. All students for whom we have caregiver consent will be tested.

Q

How will the ICSD decide which staff will be tested?

A

All staff testing will be voluntary. Staff that work with a particular class or cohort, in addition to others, will have an opportunity to get tested each time we offer testing.

Q

Will the ICSD test a particular ratio of students to staff each week? 

A

No. Our goal is to ultimately test all who provide consent. Our random generators will help us identify cohorts/classes of in-person students and staff, and we will ask for additional staff each week to help us reach our intended percentages of the school population.

Q

How will testing work?

A

Using the Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen test, staff and students in 2nd grade and above (who are able to) swab the front of both of their nostrils for 5 seconds each while monitored by a nurse or trained observer, as per testing regulations. School nurses swab students in grades PreK-1 and any other student or staff member unable to safely collect their own sample. Each swab is then placed into a testing card, along with a reagent, and results are visually available within minutes. 

Q

Who will do the testing?

A

Trained staff, including nurses, will supervise the collection of samples (nose swabbing) for students and staff. Nurses will collect samples for students in lower grades (i.e., PreK through 1st), as well as those students who are unable to collect independently.

Q

How do trained observers receive their training?

A

Any building or department staff can volunteer to be a trained observer, and this training is provided asynchronously via Google Classroom. After watching videos and reading, trained observers take a short test to ensure that they can accurately guide students and staff to swab their noses properly. If you’re interested in serving as a trained observer, please contact your supervisor.

Q

What does reporting look like?

A

Each test is reported through the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) Electronic Clinical Laboratory Reporting System (ECLRS) within 24 hours of sampling.
  Reporting is either “negative” or “positive,” however, positive cases reported on the New York State COVID-19 Schools Report Card are only those from PCR tests, confirmed by a county health department.

Q

Why will my child be quarantined if there is a positive case in their class?

A

Any positive case in a class or cohort will likely require that all students and staff who have spent more than 10 minutes with one another quarantine. These are considered “close contacts” in part due to the length of time they spend with one another (6th-12th grade periods are 60-90 minutes long). Only the Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) and other health departments can issue quarantine orders. The ICSD provides information to directly affected staff and families regarding quarantine, and the TCHD follows up with those individuals.

Q

Can someone test out of quarantine?

A

No. Quarantine is a governmental mandate.                                                                                                                

Q

What if I can’t pick up my child after a positive case?

A

Staff in your child’s school will call all families to pick up students if there is a positive case in their class/cohort before notifying students that they will be leaving school. If for some reason no one can pick up your child, we will work with you to find solutions. This is part of why it is so vital that you update the emergency contacts for your child(ren). In the meantime, students will be in quarantine or isolation rooms, or outside if possible, to await pickup.

Q

What about “contacts of contacts”?

A

The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) indicates that:
 
Person A is diagnosed with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19. If Person B had contact, close or proximate, with Person A, Person B would be subject to mandatory quarantine (if close contact) or precautionary quarantine (if proximate contact).
 
Any individual (Person C) who is a contact of Person B (i.e. spouse, children, coworkers, etc.) is considered a “contact of a contact”. Person C is not at risk for infection and would not be subject to quarantine unless Person B had or developed symptoms, or tested positive for the virus causing COVID-19.
 
 

Q

Tell me more about the Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen test. Why are we using that test?

A

The Abbott BinaxNOW is an antigen test that uses samples from the front of the nose to detect proteins present in COVID-19. These tests are being provided by the New York State Department of Health at no cost to the ICSD.
  Watch a short video explaining how the test works. (Please note that the ICSD will not be using the NAVICA app.)

Q

What’s the difference between antigen and PCR testing?

A

Antigen testing detects the presence of proteins specific to COVID-19. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing detects the presence of viral genetic material (DNA), through multiple amplification cycles.
 
 
A test’s sensitivity is the fraction of positive cases that the test correctly identifies as positive, and a test’s specificity is the fraction of negative cases that the test correctly identifies as negative.
  • A highly sensitive test will generally have a low false negative rate but will run a risk of false positives if the test’s specificity is low.
  • A highly specific test will generally have a low false positive rate but will run a risk of false negatives if the test’s sensitivity is low.
All positive BinaxNOW results will require follow-up PCR testing to confirm that positive. To learn more about the different COVID-19 tests, check out this video from the FDA: 
 

Q

Why do positive cases revealed at school need to get another (PCR) test?

A

PCR testing for COVID-19 is the “gold standard” of testing, as this form of testing is both highly sensitive and specific. This is the only test that can provide a fully-recognized positive. Results from PCR tests are reported to the Tompkins County Health Department and the New York State Department of Health.

Q

Can I still go to the CMC sampling site if I want to?

A

Yes. At this time, any Tompkins County resident can obtain testing at no cost at the Mall and Tioga Street locations. Find more information at cayugahealthsystem.org.