By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter
NORTHBOROUGH – Though school started Sept. 1 for the Public Schools of Northborough Southborough, COVID-19 is still here, officials noted at a Sept. 1 Northborough School Committee meeting.
As such, District Wellness Coordinator Mary Ellen Duggan gave the School Committee an update on the district’s protocols.
“We were hoping that we would be in a little bit of a different place this time of year,” said Superintendent Gregory Martineau. “However, COVID is very unpredictable.”
He continued, “I will say, from one year ago to today, we are in a much better place.”
Duggan said the district has applied for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s testing and screening program.
“The hope is to get it up and running by the end of September for all students and staff,” she said.
Meanwhile, Northborough is offering weekly pool screening for staff, she said.
Duggan said the district continues to optimize ventilation, cleaning and disinfection, promoting hand hygiene, providing PPE and offering testing and screening.
She said the rest of the community needs to commit to help mitigate the virus by taking measures like staying home when they’re sick and monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms.
“I implore everybody, I cannot say how important this is for us all to stay safe,” Duggan said.
Duggan said, at the moment, only staff are being tested weekly under the district’s existing testing program. Students are not being tested.
It would be confusing for people who hadn’t previously signed up for testing to sign up now and then need to sign up again for a new testing program in several weeks when the state program gets operational in town, she said.
“I think the best thing to get the most participation is just to wait and start with one program and continue with that one program throughout the year,” Duggan said.
School Committee member Erin Tagliaferri asked why the district was changing to state testing. She said the district had previously been hesitant because there wasn’t an option to take tests home.
There is a take home test option, Duggan said.
It’s free, Duggan said. She added that the state has guaranteed to send the district the support it needs to make it work, including people and PPE.
The state had provided testing options last year. It has continued that program, with some changes, this year.
The program is available to all K-12 districts or schools including public, private and parochial schools.
Under the program, districts can get access to free routine pooled testing while also accessing diagnostic testing for students who present COVID-19 symptoms. Diagnostic testing is further available as a means to enable a “test and stay” approach to contact tracing according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website.
With that option, districts can identify close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 positive individuals and use rapid tests to monitor those close contacts for COVID-19 infection over a five-day testing schedule.
“It is strongly recommended districts participate in both the diagnostic and Routine COVID Pooled Testing components of the COVID-19 testing program,” read a message on the state Department of Education’s website detailing the program.
“I think with the state program, the way that it’s set up, it’s going to keep our kids in school,” Duggan said.