Bristol Warren schools plan mass Covid test

Event open to all members of school community; superintendent also recommends student athlete testing in second semester and updates quarantine procedure

By Ted Hayes
Posted 1/12/21

Bristol Warren school officials are working with the state Department of Health to organize a one-day mass event in which every person in the towns' school community — students, teachers and …

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Bristol Warren schools plan mass Covid test

Event open to all members of school community; superintendent also recommends student athlete testing in second semester and updates quarantine procedure


Bristol Warren school officials are working with the state Department of Health to organize a one-day mass event in which every person in the towns' school community — students, teachers and staff — will be tested for the Covid-19 virus using the BinaxNOW antigen test. And he hopes to have student athletes tested as their winter sports seasons get underway.

The one-day community test will be voluntary, but superintendent Dr. Jonathan Brice told the school committee Monday night that he hopes all those eligible will agree to take part in an effort to control the spread of the virus here. He does not have a date or location yet, but said it will be in the coming days or weeks, and will be held at some convenient location within the district. The testing will be carried out by Department of Health workers.

The one day test was one of two options given when Dr. Brice recently signed the district up for a DOH program that promised to offer widespread free testing to school districts across the state. The other option, in which the BinaxNow antigen test would be given at various local schools with help from school workers, is likely too cumbersome, he said.

"I was leery of choosing option one," he said Monday. Testing at individual schools ... means that school staff is responsible for handling the logistics" and would likely be too cumbersome "given the amount of paperwork and data input that (school workers) would have to do. It appears that we will have some level of flexibility in terms of the implementation that makes this a little more feasible for us."

School sports
The district's move to ramp up testing here comes as the winter sports schedule gets underway this week, with only low to moderate risk sports running in the winter. Those include basketball at the Kickemuit Middle School and basketball, gymnastics, ice hockey, girls' indoor track and field and swimming at Mt. Hope High School.

Though there is not yet a mandate that student athletes be tested at the beginning or during the season, Dr. Brice said that could change as he said he believes it is a good idea and is "consistent with what we are seeing at other school districts."

In the meantime, Christy Belisle, Mt. Hope's athletic director, said coaches and staff will continue to work to check student athletes' health as they compete or practice. Apart from sanitation measures that have been underway since September and are continuing, Ms. Belisle and her corps of coaches is asking students, but cannot mandate, that they refrain from participating in club sports or other organized athletic teams outside of school.

Though she said restricting such outside activity cannot be mandated, "we are highly encouraging families and student athletes that if you are going to participate with us, that while you are participating with us you are only participating with us."

Ongoing safety protocols for all sports include daily screening as athletes enter practice and games, compulsory mask wearing at all times, regular cleaning of sports equipment, and the barring of all spectators at practice or games.

She said the sports staff did a good job with requirements over the fall semester, and that will continue:

Students' "temperature is being taken on their way," she said. "Their temperature is only recorded if it's above 100.3 degrees, in which we would take them home. They're asked five questions. It's all logged. In the case where somebody is exposed or thinks they were exposed, we can see who was in attendance, and if they weren't in attendance, why weren't they there? Coaches are following up. Now we're calling them back to make sure they're not missing because they were sick."

Close contact measures
The district has also set its quarantine policy for the second semester, after being given several options for its implementation and term from the Department of Health.

Going forward, the district will require that all school community members classified as close contacts — those who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus — must quarantine for 10 days. Under the plan:

Close contacts must quarantine at home for 10 days from the last time they were in contact with an infected individual;

Close contacts can shorten their quarantine to seven days if they receive a negative PCR or rapid antigen test at least five days after they were in contact with an infected individual.

Though the district had an option of choosing a seven, 10 or 14-day quarantine period, Dr. Brice said the 10-day option gives the district the most flexibility and safety, and will likely also help prevent staffing issues that otherwise might compromise the district's ability to have adequate staff in all its buildings. He said that obviously, the district's plan will be re-evaluated and adjusted as needed.

Finally, Dr. Brice told the school committee he is hopeful that school officials not just here but across the state will have access to the Covid-19 as soon as the state's second phase of vaccinations begins, likely some time in March.

Dr. Brice sits on a statewide vaccination study group, and said he has been pushing for school staff vaccinations statewide.

"Across the state we have been given a quantity of vaccine," he said. "Right now we are working through the first group," which includes nursing homes, first responders and other high-risk professionals and populations.

"Luckily in the discussions, school nurses were included and all of our school nurses have received their initial doses. I have been advocating for school staff, not just here, but across the state, to be included at the very start of Phase II."

It's a possibility Mt. Hope nurse Ellen Estrella said she hopes to see. As for now, she said, she is busy but not as busy as she thought she would be dealing with students who don't feel well, and she is thankful:

"Parents are doing their due diligence," she said. "They are keeping their kids home. My kids (at Mt. Hope) are very vocal. They'll tell their parents if they don't feel good. I don't have the volume of visits that I've had for years in my office this year. I was fearful when we started about what this was going to look like. But I've been fortunate in the number of visits — I just think we need to keep working to get us through until we're all vaccinated."

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