Sequim schools will begin voluntary COVID-19 testing of students, interim superintendent Jane Pryne announced earlier this week.
The state-funded program in collaboration with the Washington State Department of Health will be incorporated into existing district plans to “help contain the virus, protect our communities, and keep students and teachers safe and healthy whether they are remote or in-person,” Pryne said in a statement sent to parents and the community on Sept. 27.
“We believe that safe, in-person schooling is a priority – it’s better for students, it’s better for teachers, and it’s better for our economy because it helps parents get back to work,” Pryne said.
“Even if you’ve been vaccinated, if you have a cough, fever, or other symptoms, you should still get a COVID-19 test right away.”
According to the district website (sequimschools.org), school officials identified 13 total cases of COVID-19 between Sept. 1-27 — three each at Helen Haller Elementary, Greywolf Elementary and Sequim Middle School, and four at Sequim high School. Six of those cases (three each at the middle and high school) were from in-school exposures.
District officials are asking teachers, staff, students and families to evaluate their health each day. Students on campus who show symptoms of COVID-19 will be referred to a testing site, located at each school’s health room; families will need to have completed the COVID-19 consent for their child.
The school district will then call families to see if they want their student to take a Rapid COVID Test, available at the school site by trained staffers. If the test is positive, the student will be asked to isolate for at least 10 days and until symptoms resolve; if the test is negative, they will be asked to isolate until symptoms improve.
Tests used are BinaxNOW shallow nasal swab tests.
“If we run out of BinaxNOW we may also be using CareStart COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test,” Pryne said.
When a positive case is identified, the school will activate its outbreak mitigation plan, Pryne said. All “close contacts” will be asked to quarantine for 10 days, though no testing is required, or a seven-day quarantine with a negative COVID test results.
Each positive COVID case will be reported to the Clallam County Health Department and the Washington State Department of Health for case investigation and the Sequim School District’s contact tracing staff to prevent further transmission.
Parents can access the Covid Antigen Testing COVID Consent Form via the Skyward system. Students who are 18 years and older can submit forms as well; only students who are in grades 11 and 12 at Sequim High School, Sequim Options School, Olympic Peninsula Academy and/or Dungeness Virtual School have access to the form.
Protocols, including referring symptomatic people for testing, and prevention practices such as masks and distancing will be part of standard school days at least through the end of the 2021-2022 school year, Pryne said.
“By including a covid testing program, we have an opportunity to adapt our school practices so that we can minimize risk, contain, and control the virus, and keep students and teachers safe in classrooms,” she said.
Sequim schools already have a number of infection prevention practices in place, Pryne noted, including face masks, social distancing, improved ventilation and air filtration, more cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, foot traffic pattern adjustments and more.
“Our goal is to put the best possible strategies in place so that our teachers, staff, students, and families feel safe, protected, and comfortable focusing on teaching and learning — and so our students can get the great education they deserve,” Pryne said.