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Ask the Experts: Could Foote Do Covid Testing?

Each week, one of the health professionals advising Foote's reopening is answering parent questions about Covid and school. Answers will be published on Foote's website and in our weekly parent e-newsletter, This Week at Foote.

Submit your question to Andy Bromage, Director of Communications, at abromage@footeschool.org.

Question:

Why is Foote not using testing as one way to pick up asymptomatic cases before the virus spreads in our community?

Answer:

By Dr. Camille Brown
Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine & Foote's consulting pediatrician

I want to take this opportunity to thank the Foote community for all their time and effort implementing the plan to open Foote this fall. The opportunity to have in-person learning is vitally important for the social and emotional wellbeing and development of our children. I know much time has been spent this summer preparing for these initial days. I am amazed at the dedication, flexibility and creativity of the faculty and staff.

As outlined in our reopening plan, Foote has focused on mitigating the spread of Covid-19 on the Foote campus with symptom screening, ventilation upgrades, cohorting, mandatory mask wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting and maximizing our outdoor areas for teaching. Through the process of creating our reopening plan, the school's Health and Safety Committee has been continuing to look into the possibility of incorporating testing for active infection. The goal of testing would be to identify asymptomatic carriers of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19 disease, and to identify individuals who are pre-symptomatic (i.e. have been exposed and will develop Covid-19 symptoms).

Currently, the gold standard test for SARS-CoV-2 is a nasopharyngeal PCR test. This is an uncomfortable test which requires full personal protective equipment (PPE) and a specialized health care setting to be collected. Other tests using nasal swabs and saliva are becoming more widely available, as are rapid diagnostic tests. While PCR is recommended for an individual with symptoms of Covid-19 or who has had close contact (greater than 15 minutes and fewer than 6 feet) to another individual with Covid-19, the other forms of testing may prove to be more suitable for identifying a majority of asymptomatic carriers in larger settings such as schools.

For a day school setting where all students and staff leave the campus and participate activities away from school, one-time testing would be of very limited benefit. This test would only give us information about a single point in time. Frequent testing would be necessary to ensure that we identify asymptomatic carriers rapidly. At this time, the recommended frequency for testing in school settings has not been formally established, but most studies have focused on universities and residential boarding schools where individuals may live in close proximity.

Foote's Health and Safety Committee is in close conversation with other independent day schools in Connecticut about how best to develop a testing program for a day school. However, at this time we do not have access to tests that we believe would fit the needs of Foote.

Several new tests—including saliva-based tests—are promising and we are following developments in this area closely. While some of these new tests may not be as accurate as the PCR test, even a lower sensitivity test may be acceptable as a screening tool in the school setting, especially if these tests can be repeated frequently. In the meantime, we can all do our part to keep our families, friends and the Foote community safe and healthy by wearing masks, washing our hands and physically distancing during our work and activities.  

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Since 1916, The Foote School has provided child-centered education that nurtures creativity, excellence and joy in learning.