West Hartford Public Schools have received several thousand test kits which will be available for students or staff according to guidelines set by the state Department of Education.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford Public Schools have received an allocation of COVID-19 rapid self-tests distributed by the state Tuesday, and Superintendent Tom Moore said they will be available at each school beginning Wednesday for use as necessary according to guidelines.
While a news release from the state indicates that the district received 49 boxes of iHealth test kits – roughly 5,000 kits – which is a significant number, there are not enough to distribute to all 11,000 students and staff. The state Department of Education guidelines specify that “the rapid home tests are to be used to screen those who are symptomatic, to determine who should not be present in school.”
Moore, in a letter sent to families Tuesday, said according to those guidelines, the kits will be used:
“If a child or staff person exhibits symptoms and needs to be screened for COVID-19
“If a child or a staff member has a direct exposure to an individual with COVID-19
“If a class or program is experiencing multiple cases of COVID-19, a school may want to distribute tests to all students in that classroom if they have difficulty accessing tests.”
The tests will be distributed by nurses at each school “to those children who are being sent home either because they are symptomatic or have been deemed a close contact, and have not tested positive in the previous 90 days,” Moore said. Children who are already home and symptomatic, and have not been able to get tested, will also be able to receive a test through the school.
Tests should be reserved for students only, Moore said, not other family members, and are being provided by the state to keep schools safely open. They are also available for staff members who have not been able to obtain testing through other sources.
“I appreciate the state’s efforts to prioritize schools with masks and testing kits as we remain open,” Moore told We-Ha.com. “As more become available, we will continue to distribute them to our families.”
The district’s dashboard has not yet been updated to reflect the cases since holiday break ended, but there have been a significant number, Moore said. The district has had some staffing problems, particularly with transportation, but buses are still running and schools have remained open.
“As I said before, I am deeply thankful to all who work in our schools for their commitment to our children, and for going above and beyond during so many times like this over the past two years,” Moore said in his letter Tuesday.
Moore also reiterated in Tuesday’s letter that at this time contact tracing will continue in West Hartford Public Schools, even though it is not required, as another mitigation strategy.
The current protocols for quarantining will be maintained until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention clarifies its guidance for schools, which is expected to happen this week, Moore said.
“One shift you will see, for both practicality and workload reasons, is that we will no longer be sending a nightly letter from Dr. Morrow detailing where we have positive cases, as with the level of community spread we have right now, there will be cases everywhere. This information will still be available through our COVID dashboard, which anyone can access on our district website,” Moore said.
A news release from the state indicated that a total of 670,000 test kits were distributed Tuesday.
In addition to the iHealth tests provided to West Hartford Public Schools, test kits have been allocated by the state for use by non-public school students and staff, and early childcare providers. The number of test kits has been determined based on the population. Kingswood Oxford, Northwest Catholic, and Renbrook all received one box each of kits, while smaller schools such as Ben Bronz Academy received 50 kits.
“Keeping students in school in a safe and healthy learning environment has been one of my top priorities, and providing these self-tests to schools and early childcare providers will be another component in our efforts toward getting this done,” Gov. Ned Lamont said in a statement Tuesday. “Amid a worldwide scramble to obtain tests, our administration is continuing to work with vendors to get as many tests here as possible, and we will continue working with our school districts to help fulfill these needs.”
Connecticut Education Commissioner Charlene M. Russell-Tucker said said testing “is just one of the many mitigation strategies aimed at keeping our students learning in person, where they learn best and have access to social-emotional and mental health supports, nutritious meals, physical activity, and more.”
Connecticut Early Childhood Commissioner Beth Bye also expressed her appreciation for the allocation of test kits and N95 masks, which were also distributed by the state, to childcare providers who remain frontline workers. “These rapid home tests and N95 masks will help them protect child and teacher health. The Office of Early Childhood will continue its efforts to support child care providers who keep children healthy and safe and enable parents to get to work,” Bye said in a statement.
Dr. Manisha Juthani, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, said the tests will help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. “Vaccination, masking and these self-tests will decrease the risk of severe disease and hospitalization from COVID-19. In addition to self-testing, we encourage parents to please get their child vaccinated,” she said in a statement.
“As always, if your child is exhibiting symptoms, please keep them at home,” Moore said.
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