With Natick families still in summer mode, Natick Public Schools Supt. Dr. Anna Nolin said during this past week’s School Committee meeting that she’s been getting “tense email” from some parents about why NPS isn’t mandating mask wearing to start the school year even though such a mandate has been put in place in conjunction with the Board of Health.
Now Nolin is trying to get the word out about several options that the district will have to test for COVID-19 within its community in an effort to keep people healthy and in school, which starts on Sept. 2. Parents and guardians will be asked consent once for all 3 options, if they are needed. Information on testing and other back-to-school resources are included in an online handbook that’s been shared and is being updated as needed.
The pooled testing used last year by NPS for COVID-19 surveillance did help reduce exposures by infected individuals. But with infection rates so low in town right now along with high vaccination rates cut infection days and exposures back by two days per infected person, the district doesn’t plan to do pooled testing at the start of the school year. However, the state is making this option available for free via a larger vendor, with personnel provided, if Natick’s daily COVID-19 incident rate or other key metrics rise to the point where pooled testing is required (pooled testing is now being called by the state “routine COVID pooled testing” because, you know, that’s somehow easier to understand).
Nolin gave an update on pooled testing and shared info on symptomatic testing and test and stay close contact testing.
During the past school year, if a student suddenly had a symptom that could indicate COVID—or could just be an isolated headache—they’d be sent home to get COVID test. This time around a rapid antigen test will be conducted on school premises, and if the COVID test is negative, the student could stay in school. If they test positive for COVID, they’ll need to go home and get a PCR test to confirm their condition.
Another new testing protocol, test and stay, is “a dream” according to Nolin for families whose lives were disrupted last year when kids were close contacts of those who tested positive for COVID and needed to quarantine even without symptoms. Now they’ll be able to get a quick test at school and remain at school if they show no symptoms. They’ll need to be tested for 5 days from the point of exposure.
NPS would like to host a vaccine clinic for students who are eligible but haven’t received the inoculation yet, and would look to hold clinics for younger students when they become eligible.
More immediately, Natick Public Schools is holding information sessions this week: