Majority of Erie County school districts have signed on for this initiative
√ Programs designed to reduce risk of COVID-19 transmission in school settings, and to maximize time students spend learning in school
With support from approximately $18.5 million in federal funding, the Erie County Department of Health is coordinating COVID-19 testing for K-12 students and school staff.
“COVID-19 is an aggressive and infectious disease, and we are in a position to offer COVID-19 tests proactively for students and school staff. Doing this is part of providing greater protection to our entire community,” Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein said. “This initiative works alongside the other mitigation strategies and requirements outlined in the New York State Department of Health’s school guidance.”
She added, “Testing can mean the difference between a few scattered cases in a school and a full-blown COVID-19 outbreak and closure. It can also reduce the number of students and school staff who are kept out of school because of isolation, illness and quarantine.”
Children under 12 years of age are not currently eligible for available COVID-19 vaccines, which makes other prevention strategies, like testing, that much more crucial for this vulnerable population, ECDOH said.
One program involves screening testing, which is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NYSDOH to be part of a school’s COVID-19 mitigation strategy. This program involves weekly tests of a random sample of a school’s students and staff. Schools working with ECDOH are actively enrolling students in this program now.
A second program for proximate testing is provided as needed when a classroom has a positive COVID-19 case. Students and staff from those settings who do not need to quarantine under current NYSDOH guidance, but who were present in a classroom with a positive COVID-19 case while that case was infectious, will be offered a COVID-19 PCR test three to five days after that exposure.
“We want to reduce the risk of in-class transmission and keep kids in school,” Burstein said. “Our department strongly encourages parents to sign their children up for this program if it is offered by their school.”
Proximate testing will begin in early October.
Medical professionals from Buffalo Home Care Inc. will supervise sample collection and transport to Quadrant Biosciences, a local laboratory. Specimens of a swab from inside the mouth are self-collected by the student or staff member.
“This is a much less invasive method of collecting a sample, especially compared to other diagnostic tests where a sample is taken from deep inside the nasal cavity,” Burstein said. “Children as young as 3 years old are able to manage this, with supervision.”
Those COVID-19 test results are expected to be available in one business day to the parent or school staff member through Quadrant Biosciences’ secure smartphone app and website. ECDOH’s school team within the office of epidemiology will have access to positive results, and will reach out to those students and school staff to begin contact tracing for positive cases.
Students must have parental consent to participate in either or both testing programs. Parents and school staff may sign up to participate in these testing programs at http://www.erie.gov/schooltesting. Or, they may contact their school’s principal.
COVID-19 tests will be provided at no cost to families or staff. Health insurance is requested during the sign-up process, but is not at all required.
ECDOH said these testing programs should not be confused with the diagnostic COVID-19 testing it offers and provided by private medical providers and many pharmacies.
“The type of test is the same, however, any student or school staff member who has COVID-19 symptoms or is a close contact of a COVID-19 case should not use these school programs to confirm a diagnosis or as a way to return to school after illness,” Burstein said. “If you have any respiratory symptoms or feel ill, you should not go to school or work. Call 716-858-2929 to schedule a test through ECDOH or access one of the many COVID-19 testing options in Erie County.”
The list of school districts and schools participating in Erie County’s school screening testing and proximate testing programs changes regularly as schools sign on. Visit www.erie.gov/schooltesting and click on the “ECDOH Program Consent Form” to see if a school district, BOCES program or school is listed.
√ ECDOH COVID-19 vaccine information clinic schedule: http://www.erie.gov/vax
√ ECDOH COVID-19 information line: 716-858-2929 – foreign language interpretation available
√ ECDOH COVID-19 weekly data updates: https://www2.erie.gov/health/index.php?q=covid-19-media-data
√ Erie County COVID-19 wastewater testing: http://erie.gov/covid19-wastewater