November 19, 2020 - Story by Carol Britton Meyer
Update November 19, 2020 3:06pm
Supt. of Schools Paul Austin explained today why the Hingham Public Schools didn't "opt in" to the state's Phase I free COVID-19 rapid testing program when it was offered to local communities.
While Austin said he hasn't received any emails asking why the HPS isn't participating in Phase I rapid testing, he spoke with the Hingham Anchor in response to a request for clarification due to a number of social media posts.
Phase 1 is set to begin in 134 school districts, as well as some special education collaboratives and charter schools, in early December. If a rapid test result comes back positive, it is not treated as a confirmed test, but rather as an indication that a second, PCR (usually done through a nose or throat swab) test should be taken outside of school.
"We're interested in offering testing, and I believe that eventually that's the key to allowing for more in-person learning, but it has to be the right test," Austin said. "The results of Phase 1 COVID testing aren't binding. Whether a person tests positive or negative, he or she would be required to take a second test.”
The rapid test program, available to school districts that are involved with any form of in-person learning, provides an opportunity for students (with their parents' permission) and staff to be tested if they are experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms.
Members of the HPS COVID Response Team -- including a HPS nurse, the school physician, principals, Austin, and the Board of Health -- seriously considered the offer of free testing but "reached a consensus that it wasn't something we should pursue," Austin said. "We thought the test would be too invasive because a second test would be required to confirm the first one.”
Austin also said he has already been working with the Board of Health to explore options to bring COVID-19 testing to the HPS other than the COVID-19 rapid tests.
That said, if the Phase 1 rapid-testing proves to be "better than we think," Austin didn't rule out participating in another phase of the program. "I applaude the efforts of the state," he said. "However, the tests are only for people who are symptomatic, and we want to find a way to help prevent the spread of this disease, even if a student or staff member doesn't realize they have COVID-19.”
In the meantime, the HPS health and safety protocols that are in place are working well, according to Austin, keeping COVID-19 at bay in the HPS. "We ask students and staff who aren't feeling well not to come to school, or if they are in school and not feeling well, they are sent home immediately and asked to take a COVID-19 test." Additional measures include wearing face masks, social distancing, and sanitization procedures.
The Hingham Board of Health has a contact tracing program in place in accordance with state requirements, which involves notifying those who have come into contact with individuals who have tested positive so that they can quarantine for 14 days.