LASD rolls out free COVID-19 testing for students

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The Los Altos School District partnered with El Camino Health earlier this year to offer COVID-19 testing for staff, above. Now, the program is expanding to include students.

Starting next week, students in the Los Altos School District will be able to get free COVID-19 tests at school campuses as often as every two weeks.

The school district is partnering with El Camino Health – Mountain View to offer the tests for asymptomatic students. Roughly once every two weeks, dependent on the upcoming holiday schedules, there will be a testing site open to all LASD students at one of the schools in the district.

“As we have returned people to campuses, both staff and students, we really felt it was a good idea to have testing available for people to have trust and have confidence in their return,” Superintendent Jeff Baier said.

El Camino has already been providing on-campus COVID-19 tests for school district staff. The program is now expanding to include students.

LASD officials recommend that students and staff who have returned to campus for in-person learning get monthly tests. For those who want more frequent tests, El Camino will be offering testing as often as every 14 days.

On-campus testing is reserved for students who are back in the classroom, Baier said. Those that are still learning fully remotely can schedule COVID-19 tests at El Camino.

Thus far, the district has brought back transitional kindergarten, kindergarten and first-grade students in a part-time model, where they are on campus two days a week and work from home the remaining three. Second- and third-graders are slated to return Monday. Grade levels are coming back in phases, with all ages set to return by Jan. 20. Parents also have the option to choose a 100% virtual option for their children.

The testing sites can accommodate roughly 200 people per day, Baier said. Appointments are required and parents must be with their children for the testing.

Regularly testing students will help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 if there are cases, Baier said. Thus far, he said he doesn’t know of any students or staff who have tested positive, but he knows the virus is in the broader community. According to county data, there have been 144 cumulative COVID-19 cases in the city of Los Altos.

“It’s certainly not out of the realm of likelihood that there will be positive cases, that there will be active cases,” Baier said. “We really are looking at how we mitigate those and prevent spread when they occur.”

Mitigating spread

If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health has protocols the school is required to follow. All the members of a classroom cohort with a person who tested positive would be sent home to quarantine for 14 days. LASD plans to have those students learn virtually during that two-week period.

The county also mandates that all staff and families in a school community be notified of any positive cases, while maintaining confidentiality requirements.

If a COVID-19 outbreak becomes more widespread, the state and county have guidelines for when an entire school or district may need to close. According to the California Department of Public Health, closing an individual school may be appropriate when there are multiple cases in multiple cohorts, or when at least 5% of students and staff test positive in a two-week period. A district should be closed, the state says, if 25% or more of its schools have been closed within 14 days. The district could then generally reopen 14 days later.

Any decision to actually close a school or district would be made in consultation with county health officer Dr. Sara Cody, who could consider other factors in addition to the general state guidance.

Safety measures

Beyond offering testing for students and staff, LASD officials are taking other steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Families are expected to complete a daily screener form online, which asks questions including whether the student has had any potential symptoms of COVID-19 in the past 72 hours. Staff members also complete the screener each day.

Any child with symptoms, even mild ones, is supposed to stay home. Potential symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue, runny nose, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. They can return to campus only once they are tested for COVID-19 and complete any isolation and quarantine protocols, or if they get a doctor’s note explaining why the symptoms are occurring and why a test for COVID-19 isn’t needed.

If any student starts presenting symptoms of COVID-19 at school, he or she is sent to an isolation area on campus until picked up by a parent.

“If we don’t have an underlying reason for why that child is presenting with symptoms, that could potentially be a cold, but could
potentially also be COVID,” district nurse Monica Sidher said. “We need to be vigilant and make sure that these students are all being followed up on.”

The district also has asked families to make sure they follow COVID-19 safety protocols, even when not at school. That includes avoiding unnecessary travel and practicing physical distancing.

At school, LASD is requiring that all students wear a mask, regardless of grade level. The only exceptions are when eating, drinking or vigorously exercising. The youngest students may need mask breaks, Sidher said, where they step outside the classroom and briefly remove their face coverings. If the weather doesn’t permit going outside, kids can take a mask break at the back of the classroom, away from their peers.

There are certain students, such as some of those receiving special-education services, who can’t tolerate a mask, though Sidher said some may still be able to wear a face shield. For those who can’t, the focus is on other risk mitigation measures, including face coverings for staff and handwashing.

Teachers are practicing frequent handwashing with all students throughout the school day. Furniture has been rearranged to maintain space between students. Classrooms also have a plexiglass barrier, which teachers can sit behind when they need to work one-on-one with a student.

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