GCSD starts test-to-stay protocol, has extra COVID tests to distribute

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Students who are vaccinated do not have to quarantine when they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 unless they have COVID symptoms. Here, Eleanor Parker, a kindergartner at Lynnwood Elementary School, gets a COVID vaccine administered by her aunt, Blanca Gonzalez-Parker.

GUILDERLAND — On Monday, schools in Guilderland started a test-to-stay protocol that had been outlined by the governor in December.

“Today was our very first day,” Superintendent Marie Wiles told The Enterprise on Jan. 10.

Students who are asymptomatic but have had close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 now go to the nurse’s office in their school to take a rapid antigen test. 

If the test is negative, the student stays in school. If the test is positive, Wiles said, parents or guardians are called to bring the student home.

After that, the first stop a student who has tested negative makes every other school day is to the nurse’s office to be tested.

Albany County has just directed schools to change from a 10-day period of isolation for infected students to a five-day period, so Guilderland is following suit, Wiles said.

A group that meets weekly — “which is not enough because things change so quickly,” said Wiles — will be discussing the specifics of implementing the new protocols.

Up until now, the district has had students who test positive stay home for 10 days, with an option of testing out of isolation at seven days.

Students who are vaccinated do not have to quarantine when they’ve been exposed to the virus, Wiles said, unless they have COVID symptoms.

Children aged 5 and older are now eligible to get vaccinated with Pfize-BioNTech.

“My feeling is we want to get kids in school,” said Wiles while noting how taxing the current surge, brought on by the highly contagious Omicron variant, has been on staff members, particularly administrators who have to trace all the contacts and on school nurses who administer tests.

“All of the guidance we get lately says ‘interim,’ which makes it really hard,” said Wiles of the ever-shifting protocols.

Asked about morale, she said, “The word I would use is ‘weary.’ Everyone is weary of the pandemic,” she said. The Guilderland schools had the Albany County’s first COVID-19 case in March 2020.

“It’s been relentless,” Wiles went on. “Right now, it’s transmitted so quickly, it’s a ton of work for people. We’re hopeful we’re coming to the top of this Omicron high peak … That can’t happen soon enough.”

In South Africa and Great Britain, Omicron peaked dramatically, as it is doing in the United States now, and then, just as steeply dropped.

One bright note: The district was given 4,500 to 4,600 rapid antigen tests, distributed through the Capital Region BOCES, and it will not need all of them, Wiles said. So the plan, which needs to be fine-tuned, is to share them with the community “so students can use them at home,” she said.

Some of the tests expire at the end of January and others expire at the end of February, she said. Initially, Wiles said, the district was told the tests were good for three months after the expiration date but on Friday, she was told they are not.

She said another batch of tests is expected soon.

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