By Justin Roshak, Contributing Writer
HUDSON – Hudson officials expected to begin testing for COVID-19 in schools using kits and training provided by a state-contracted company earlier this month. But, almost a month into the new school year, those programs were still gearing up.
Superintendent Marco Rodrigues laid out some of the challenges at a Sept. 21 School Committee meeting.
“Unfortunately, CIC, the organization which works with the Department of Education, does not at this time have the bandwidth to provide everything they promised us we would have,” Rodrigues said.
CIC Health, a Cambridge-based health tech company, has run the state’s four mass vaccination sites and provides testing services to hundreds of Massachusetts school districts, according to its website.
As a result of the delay, though, Hudson’s school nurse coordinator was only set to begin training to administer rapid COVID-19 tests this week, Rodrigues said. The initial trainees were then to train the district’s other nurses.
The training is important because state rules prevent the use of at-home tests to exempt a child from school quarantine policies.
“If the home tests have no medical supervision, it’s not being counted,” Rodrigues explained.
This means that, for most Hudson residents, commonly available at-home rapid tests will not suffice to allow a child to return to school after displaying COVID-19 symptoms, or after being identified as a close contact of an individual with COVID-19.
Once Hudson Public Schools is approved for rapid tests in schools, those will qualify as being performed under medical supervision.
Consent forms in English, Portuguese, and Spanish were scheduled to be distributed electronically last week. The district expects parents to print out the form and send it back in.
Parents choosing not to vaccinate their children are also being asked to complete the form, which has an option to opt out of testing altogether, even in the event of symptoms.
“No child will be tested without the parent’s consent,” Rodrigues said. He added, however, “If they opt out, they cannot stay in school. They’ll be quarantined,” in the event that a student develops COVID-19 symptoms.
Only unvaccinated students are being required to quarantine after close contact with a known positive case. Vaccinated students are assumed to have sufficient protection to waive the ten-day quarantine period.
Rodrigues described a recent incident where ten students were in close contact with a positive case.
“Only one needs to be quarantined because only one was unvaccinated,” he said. “The goal is to help people stay in school.”
Once testing capacity and consent forms are in place, unvaccinated students who have been in close contact with a positive case and are asymptomatic will be able to use in-school testing as an alternative to the ten-day quarantine.
“Once we’re approved to do the Binax rapid test, for those who are symptomatic, the consent form applies to that,” Rodrigues explained, noting the name of the test that is used for these rapid results.
After that, students who show symptoms of COVID-19 can be tested before they’re released for the day.
Rodrigues said the goal was to make education as consistent and seamless as possible, while still maintaining school community safety.
Along those lines, Rodrigues reiterated his call for students to get vaccinated.
“All the high schoolers could have been prevented if they were vaccinated,” he said of the school district’s COVID-19 cases so far this year.
Vaccines, however, are not yet approved for elementary school-age students, leaving social distancing and masks as the only available protections for those students.
Rodrigues observed of recent cases, “The ones who are at the elementary level typically have to do with the cafeteria.”