As School Starts, Districts Grapple With Testing Requirements

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VESTAL, NY (WSKG) – Students and teachers across the region are returning to the classroom this week. Still, many local officials are working out the new COVID-19 testing requirement for unvaccinated school staff.

Broome County Executive Jason Garnar said current testing programs do not have the capacity for the estimated thousands who will need a weekly COVID test.

“If those people can’t get tested and those people don’t get vaccinated, then they’re not going to be able to go to school and that is going to cause major problems for schools to be able to be reopened,” Garnar said.

Binghamton High School in Broome County. (Megan Zerez/WSKG)

Broome County lost access to resources and labor when the state of emergency was lifted earlier this year.

That was not a problem over the summer as case counts declined. But with more cases and this new demand for routine testing, Garnar said the county is feeling the labor crunch.

Many school districts said the task of providing in-house testing will likely fall to school nurses. But even in larger districts like the Ithaca City School District, nurses may already have to split their time between several different schools.

Nellie Brown, Director of Workplace Health & Safety Programs at Cornell University, said even if schools and counties can meet that testing requirement, it is just a stopgap measure compared to the vaccine.*

“You can still be contagious, you’re not going to catch everybody,” Brown said.

Brown added routine testing can help with contact tracing, but might not be enough to avoid a school-wide outbreak with the more contagious delta variant on the rise.

Brown said unvaccinated teachers are an area of particular concern as students return to in-person classes this fall. Many children are still not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

*Full Disclosure: Cornell University is a WSKG Underwriter