Capital Region schools get tens of thousands of COVID test kits

PHOTOGRAPHER:

The exterior of Lynch Literacy Academy, located at 55 Brandt Place in Amsterdam, is seen on Monday, January 3, 2022.

Millions of COVID test kits have been distributed to New York school districts and millions more are on their way as local and state officials try to keep in-person learning going amid a pandemic surge.

Local BOCES are helping distribute the kits to their partner districts, which in turn are finalizing plans to get the kits out to children and their families this week.

Individual districts and county health agencies set their own protocols, so it’s best for parents to check with their children’s school system for details.

Four random examples, all different: Niskayuna schools will have a drive-through pickup later this week; Schenectady will send kits home with younger children and older children’s parents can pick kits up in person; individual schools in the Saratoga Springs district will notify parents of procedures; and Amsterdam hadn’t finalized the protocol for distribution Monday.

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the state would buy 37 million test kits as part of a larger plan to combat the winter COVID surge. She said Monday morning 5.2 million kits had already been distributed to schools and a cargo plane had just dropped off 3.7 million more kits for the state to distribute.

In the Capital Region and eastern Mohawk Valley, Capital Region BOCES distributed 57,816 kits to its districts and Hamilton Fulton Montgomery BOCES distributed 15,534.

HFM BOCES Superintendent David Ziskin said this is the number of students enrolled last year plus a small additional amount for BOCES to use in its own programs.

Each kit contains two tests and all kits were delivered Monday afternoon.

Schenectady schools spokeswoman Karen Corona said via email Monday: “We did not receive our entire allocation of tests. We received about 8,600. “We will be sending one home with every elementary school student [Tuesday]  except for those who notify us they want to opt-out of receiving a kit. We will be having a central distribution point on Wednesday for middle and high school from 4-6 p.m. in the bus loop in front of Mont Pleasant Middle School. Parents of students in grades 6-12 who want to pick-up a kit can drive through or walk up to receive their kit.”

Saratoga Springs schools spokeswoman Maura Manny said via email: “The district received 6,000 COVID-19 rapid test kits. The test kits will be delivered to each our school buildings Tuesday and each school building will communicate how families can request a test kit. Remaining tests will also be kept in our school health offices for ongoing screening testing and to begin implementing test-to-stay protocols, with parent and guardian permission.”

Greater Amsterdam School District Superintendent Richard Ruberti said information about the tests is expected to be released to parents Tuesday. Students who develop symptoms will be able to take the tests and return to school if they test negative. Amsterdam is one of the few districts that didn’t return to 100% in-person instruction Monday after the holiday recess: Lynch Literacy Academy shifted to remote learning Monday and will continue at least through Wednesday due to lack of staff. Also due to lack of staff — over 30% of the teaching staff is out — William H. Barkley Elementary School will go all-remote Tuesday at least through the end of the week.

Niskayuna schools spokesman Matt Leon said the district will hold a drive-through distribution of kits from 4:45 to 7:45 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday in front of Niskayuna High School. The district has enough kits on hand for only 90% of its roughly 4,200 students; the hope is that the state will send more kits. His advice to Niskayuna parents is probably universal across all districts at this point: Watch the district website or social media channels for updates and email any questions.

The kits will enable the Test To Stay model, in which children exposed to a COVID-positive classmate but test negative will be able to attend school in person rather than going remote and quarantining.

Ziskin, the HFM superintendent, explained Monday that individual county departments of health had to adopt a version of Test To Stay, so there is likely some difference from county to county.

The widespread opinion is that transmission of COVID from person to person is happening much less in schools than in places children go outside schools, Ziskin said. 

Masking, distancing and hand hygiene are how BOCES and school districts keep classrooms safe, he said, and test kits are one more tool to accomplish the ultimate goal: Keeping schools open for in-person learning. But there’s only so much that can be anticipated with this pandemic, Ziskin said:

“It’s going to be a fluid situation. We’ll plan the best we can. When we’re thrown something unexpected we’ll adapt the best we can to keep the children in school.”

Reporters Chad Arnold and Ashley Onyon contributed reporting to this story.

By John Cropley

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