Massena stepping back from Test-to-Stay

While COVID-19 home testing kits have been sent from schools to families, Massena Central School Superintendent Patrick H. Brady says there has been confusion over the Test-to-Stay program, or TTS. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — While COVID-19 home testing kits have been sent from schools to families, Massena Central School Superintendent Patrick H. Brady says there has been confusion over the Test-to-Stay program, or TTS.

TTS, when combined with regular mitigation measures such as masking and social distancing, allows unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people who are identified as a close contact to a case of COVID-19 in certain school settings to continue in-person learning as long as they remain asymptomatic and serially test negative for COVID-19.

That strategy allows students and staff to continue in-person learning while minimizing the disruption of quarantine on students, families and schools.

“With CDC and NYS Department of Health COVID protocols changing on a regular basis during the current surge, there has been considerable confusion about quarantine and testing processes that impact our schools and communities. This includes Test-to-Stay, which has been seen by many in the public as a good way to keep students out of quarantine,” Mr. Brady said.

However, he said, he has been asked why the district has not started the TTS process instead of sending test kits home to families.

“I can understand the confusion about Test-to-Stay based on the governor’s proclamation and follow-up reports in the media that have placed the concept in high regard among the public. Certainly we want to take any measure which is going to keep our students in school, but one needs to read the fine print with Test-to-Stay,” Mr. Brady said.

He said the state Department of Health released guidance last week that said home tests could be used for Test-to-Stay, which involves only asymptomatic unvaccinated students who were close contacts to a positive case in the school. Or, the tests could be used for all students to check if they are positive and thus keep them from going to school and affecting others.

“After the BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) received the tests on Saturday afternoon, Jan. 1, and following two meetings with St. Lawrence County Public Health this week, regional superintendents decided that given the major surge in cases we are seeing right now, it would be best to start out by providing the opportunity for all families to have tests,” Mr. Brady said.

Those tests were sent home Friday, and families who received them were asked to test their students on Monday before sending them to school. Second tests could be used at the discretion of the families.

“Given that we are in a surge right now with cases coming at the highest rate since the pandemic began, we want to get these tests out ASAP where they could do some good. Hopefully parents will use this opportunity to use these scarce testing resources to test their children and keep them out of school so we do not continue to see so many people going into quarantine,” he said.

Mr. Brady said Test-to-Stay includes only asymptomatic unvaccinated students and is a much more involved process that requires approval by county Public Health, a policy of implementation adopted by the board of education, and significant resources to administer.

“For example, based on the guidance, if an asymptomatic unvaccinated student becomes exposed to COVID-19, he or she will need to be tested three times in a seven-day period by our staff to stay in school. Multiply this by the large volume of kids going into quarantine and more to come as omicron is just hitting our county, this becomes a major undertaking with no guarantee we will be provided more tests down the road to keep it going,” he said. “For all these reasons, this is why you will see most schools across the state and all in our region taking a step back on Test-to-Stay at the moment and getting the tests out into the hands of all families.”

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