Will test-to-stay policy be implemented in Southern Tier schools?


COVID-19 Dashboards

ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – Coronavirus cases among children are a primary focus for physicians, public health officials, and politicians. As of Friday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the smaller-dose Pfizer vaccine for children aged five to 11. It now moves to the CDC and state health departments for final approval before the rollout begins.

Some are concerned about the new test-to-stay policy adopted by New York State, which allows for close contact students to remain in class as long as they test for seven days after exposure.

“When a close contact is exposed to someone who had COVID, there is a chance that they may not get sick with COVID 19 infection, and there is also a chance that they can,” Dr. Justin Nistico, infectious disease expert at Arnot Health, added.

Test to stay

The guidance gives local health departments the option to use the test to stay strategy. Test to stay is a mitigation strategy that allows unvaccinated close contacts of people with COVID-19 to avoid school exclusion by testing negative with a rapid NAAT or antigen test on each school day for seven days after exposure.

“At this time, the NYSDOH does not recommend TTS,” the memo said. “However, if LHDs (local health departments) choose to allow TTS to occur in schools within their jurisdiction, NYSDOH encourages them to ensure the following:

  1. The school/district must have a written protocol that: (A) Considers equity (i.e., families should not have to pay for testing, or if they do, then the inability to pay should not prevent a student from being eligible for TTS), (B) includes actions to follow-up on transmission (e.g., contact tracing) in the event that an individual tests positive, and (C) other factors deemed essential or important by the LHD or school.
  2. The daily test must be conducted and the results received before the school day begins, and positive individuals excluded/isolated per existing procedures.
  3. If the test is done in an unmonitored setting (e.g., home), a mechanism to ensure that the test is done correctly and on the correct person must exist.
  4. The exposed person who is allowed to remain in school through TTS must still be quarantined outside of school instruction/academic periods (on weekends/holidays when the seven-day TTS period is still active, but no school test is required; after school/evenings; no community activities or extracurricular participation including clubs, sports, arts/performance activities, etc.).
  5. If the exposed person who is allowed to remain in school through TTS develop”

To note: The test to stay strategy allows close contacts of infected people to avoid school exclusion, but not other parameters of quarantine.

Until now, test to stay hasn’t been an option for New York school districts, although it has been used in other states.

Officials say the health department will not provide a new test to stay technical assistance or resources for schools in jurisdictions that permit the strategy.

In a press conference Friday afternoon, Chemung County Public Health Director Pete Buzzetti said the increase in COVID-19 testing in schools could contribute to an uptick in the county’s COVID-19 positivity rate.

“As we start the pool testing in schools, we’re going to see a lot more testing and that may artificially change our positivity rate,” Buzzetti said.

Cases among children have been lower in our region, partially due to decreased testing. Typically, children have milder symptoms, which can often present as a common cold, flu, or allergies. Because of this lack of testing, both symptomatic and asymptomatic pediatric COVID-19 cases are undetected.

Steuben County Public Health says they are discussing this new policy at length and expect to make a decision about it soon. Public Health Director Darlene Smith cautions concerned parents that this policy will not put students in danger because it is a rigorous testing protocol.

“They [close contacts] wouldn’t be riding the bus. They wouldn’t go to homeroom first. They would go directly to the nurse’s office to get the test [for seven days after exposure],” Smith continued.

As the vaccine approval is pending at the federal and state levels, experts suggest speaking with pediatricians and primary care physicians to determine the best course of action for students moving forward.

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