BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Schools in New York state’s yellow zones will begin mandatory COVID-19 testing this week as part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Cluster Action Initiative to curb the spread of the virus in counties where cases have spiked.
As of Monday, there were 563 active COVID-19 cases in Broome County, down from 668 on Thursday. Hospitalizations, however, have nearly doubled over the weekend, from 11 on Saturday to 20 on Monday.
Cuomo has repeatedly said in his briefings that school testing is necessary for monitoring community spread of the various. The school districts affected by the testing mandate include Union-Endicott, Binghamton Central School District and the Catholic Schools of Broome County.
People in school buildings that fall within the yellow zone and have in-person instruction require testing.
Four of Union-Endicott’s seven schools meet that criteria: George F. Johnson Elementary, Charles F. Johnson Elementary, Jennie F. Snapp Middle School and Union-Endicott High School.
The district is teaching with a hybrid model; about 30 percent of students are learning remotely full-time. There are still more than 2,000 people gathering each day for in-person instruction across the four buildings, according to Union-Endicott Superintendent Nicole Wolfe. The district will need to test around 20 percent of those coming into the schools—including teachers, students and staff—each week.
Wolfe said parents may opt their children out of getting tested. She said it was important for the district to obtain parental consent before beginning the surveillance testing.
“This is their decision because it really is a personal choice,” Wolfe said. “People feel strongly one way or another about having their children tested.”
The rapid testing is free for all students and staff and is less invasive than some other common swab tests, according to Wolfe. If a parent still doesn’t want their child tested, she said the child can still attend in-person instruction.
According to Wolfe, extensive planning and resources are required before schools can begin testing.
“You can test one student or staff member in 15 minutes, so we’re going to have to figure out how to deploy our resources in order to meet the mandate of having 400-some individuals every week be tested,” Wolfe said.
Broome County requested 95 rapid testing machines from the state, according to Executive Jason Garnar.
Similar rapid testing machines are currently deployed in the county’s mobile testing site, along with several state employees to administer tests to Broome County residents.
The state, however, isn’t deploying staff to the schools required to conduct testing. Few Union-Endicott staff members have the training or time to administer the testing, and school nurses are already strapped for time.
Wolfe said the district is currently finalizing plans with an outside agency to administer the testing.
According to Garnar, the staffing challenges are emblematic of a bigger problem for the county.
“It’s a significant staffing requirement and a portion of that staffing is having to get certified health care professionals to perform the swabbing and there’s a huge shortage of those professionals in the area,” Garnar said.
Rapid testing is also available through the county’s mobile site. This week testing will take place in Kirkwood, Monday through Wednesday and Whitney Point, Thursday and Friday.