VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — Steuben County announced plans to adopt “Test to Stay” measures in its schools last week. “Test to Stay” policies involve students opting for rapid testing rather than quarantine after potential exposure to COVID.
Under previous guidance, unvaccinated students who came into close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 would have to quarantine for ten days.
Steuben County Executive Jack Wheeler said that especially now that schools are mostly in person, students in quarantine have been less able to access remote learning.
“For ten days, those students would be essentially home, missing their lessons, missing their schooling,” said Wheeler.
With Test-to-Stay, students will be able to attend classes, as long as they test negative every day for a week.
Steuben County will be the first in the Southern Tier to implement “Test to Stay” policies in its schools. Other cities and towns across the country have tried the measure, including Massachusetts and Chicago, with varying success.
One potential challenge to the policy is the fact that testing will fall to school nurses, many of whom are already stretched thin by the pandemic. Additionally, access to testing supplies has been a challenge for many counties in the region. But Wheeler said the county has been ordering rapid test kits since the summer.
“The critical component of this whole thing is are tests available?” said Wheeler. “And right now, we do have the testing supplies that we need, the rapid antigen tests, to be able to implement this strategy.”
Wheeler said that with the help of almost $3 million in federal funds, the county has ordered 20,000 test kits. He added that even in the worst case scenario, the stockpile should last through winter break.
Federal funding can also be put towards hiring visiting nurses, Wheeler said, to help school nurses meet demand.
“When weighed with the benefits of keeping children in school for in person education,” said Wheeler. “After everything they have missed over the past almost two years, you know, the benefits outweigh the potential risks.”
The New York Department of Health recently released a memo allowing the measure, but stopped short of actually recommending it.
The memo also gave guidance for schools that do use the measure. Students can go to classes in person, but must quarantine when outside of school, which means they cannot use the school bus or participate in sports.