“Test to Stay” Program Offered in Schools
COVID-19 program minimizes school absences for students quarantined by school exposure.
By Eugenia Jones
In an effort to maintain in-person instruction as much as possible for students while at the same time minimizing the spread of COVID-19 in the school setting, the McCreary County School District is participating in a “Test to Stay” modified quarantine plan allowing unvaccinated students who are exposed to a COVID-19 while at school to continue receiving in-person instruction during their quarantine period.
According to McCreary County School District Health Coordinator Brandy Rowe, the program is being implemented to maximize student health, safety, and learning.
“Student health and safety are very important to us as a school district,” Rowe said. “We monitor and evaluate health measures in place regularly based on local, state, and federal guidance. Test to stay was introduced as a method that will allow students identified as a close contact in the school setting to remain in the classroom if tests remain negative. The goal of the program is to safely reduce the number of quarantines so that students can receive the maximum amount of in-person instruction possible. In-person learning leads to better academic outcomes for students and test to stay could provide a means to allow an increase in classroom attendance versus quarantine time.”
Under the “Test to Stay” plan, students who are required to quarantine due to CVID-19 exposure at school may continue in-person instruction during their quarantine period as long as the student receives repeated negative COVID-19 results through tests administered daily at school. Students cannot be tested in the “Test to Stay” program without parent/guardian permission.
Rowe noted the “Test to Stay” program has been up and running in the McCreary County School System since October 25. The program is contracted through the state with lab employees stationed at each school in the district. Laboratory employees, not school nurses, are responsible for administering COVID-19 tests at each school. The tests are administered each morning to eligible students (and only with parent/guardian permission) at a specified location in each building. The tests used locally are rapid antigen tests administered via nasal swab with results forthcoming in approximately fifteen minutes. If a student tests negative, he/she is given a ticket allowing he/she to remain at school for the day. Students who test positive are sent home to isolate immediately. The rapid antigen testing is performed daily when the exposed student is at school and begins as soon as possible after the last day of exposure (day 0) through day 7.
To be eligible for the Test to Stay modified quarantine, the student must:
-Be a pre-school through grade 12 student;
-Be entirely asymptomatic, without any signs or symptoms of COVID-19.
-Wear a mask indoors when at school for the entirety of the program, even if all test results are negative. The mask should fit securely over the nose and mouth.
-Have been exposed to the person with COVID-19 at school only. This modified quarantine strategy applies to school-related exposures only and is not applicable to exposures that occur outside of school or in the community.
-Quarantine when not at school. When not at school, the exposed student must stay home and refrain from all extracurricular activities, including sports and other activities in the community setting.
-Parent/guardian must give permission for the student to participate in the “Test to Stay” program.
In order to identify students who have been exposed to COVID-19 at school, school nurses immediately begin checking class and bus seating charts when they are notified of a positive COVID-19 case. A close contact is deemed someone who was within six feet of an infectious person for a cumulative total of fifteen minutes in a 24-hour period. (In the k-12 indoor classroom setting, the close contact definition excludes students who were at least 3 feet away from an infected student if both students correctly and consistently wore well-fitting masks the entire time and other prevention strategies were in place. This exception does not apply to adults.)
Close contacts are then notified and provided with education about COVID-19. A letter stating the date of exposure, date to end quarantine, and date for return to school if the student does not participate in “Test to Stay” is typically given to each student.
Unvaccinated students have three quarantine options. They can self-quarantine away from school for seven days after the last exposure and return to school on day eight with a negative test on day 5, 6, or 7. Secondly, they may quarantine away from school for ten days and return on the eleventh day without testing and if symptom free. Third, the student may participate in the “Test to Stay” program and continue with in-person instruction as long as test results are negative. The student may discontinue modified quarantine on day 8 if they are symptom-free and receive a negative test on day five, six, or seven.
The K-12 School COVID-19 testing Program is a voluntary program supported by federal grant funding and offered by the Kentucky Department for Public Health in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.