St. Lawrence Co. schools starting free COVID tests

Students practice physical distancing last fall at Wiley Middle School in Watertown. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — Schools across St. Lawrence County will be partnering with the county Public Health Department’s health testing partner, Quadrant Biosciences, to offer free COVID-19 screening programs.

The program will provide voluntary weekly testing of students, vaccinated teachers and vaccinated staff, as well as mandatory weekly testing of all unvaccinated teachers and staff.

Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul announced on Sept. 2 that all teachers, administrators and other school employees are required to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing unless they show proof of vaccination, with either a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine card or the state’s Excelsior Pass.

She had previously announced a mask requirement for everyone in school buildings during instructional hours and extracurricular activities.

The emergency regulation to require weekly testing or proof of vaccine applies to all schools in New York until it is no longer necessary as described in the language of the regulation.

“This method will allow early detection of COVID-19 in pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic individuals,” Massena Central School Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said in a letter to community members in the district. “Early detection means we can better stop the virus from spreading in schools. Preventing school outbreaks is key to ensuring our schools stay open to provide the education and support our children need.”

He said all unvaccinated students are highly encouraged to participate in the free, school-based COVID-19 screening testing program.

“The program will use non-invasive, self-collected saliva samples that are appropriate and painless for all ages,” Mr. Brady said. “Samples will be processed using accurate and reliable PCR analysis — the gold standard of COVID-19 testing — to identify positive cases.”

Parents who want their students to participate in the voluntary screenings must complete a COVID-19 student test consent form for each student in the household.

“We hope to begin testing in the next few weeks,” Mr. Brady said.

Consent forms are due by Tuesday, he added, with more details to be provided by the district following consent.

The news comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve in the county, and Mr. Brady said schools are committed to a safe return to in-person learning for students.

“This can only be achieved if the county, public and private school systems, parents and students work together to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools and keep one another safe,” he said. “This is especially important given the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant.”

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