Why opting out of student COVID-19 testing in Monroe County schools is discouraged

Coronavirus

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A local education leader explained why parents opting out of student COVID-19 testing in schools could mean a longer stay in the yellow zone restrictions.

The Superintendent of Schools for Monroe County, Kathleen Graupman, held a briefing Tuesday to discuss local schools who are now impacted by the new COVID-19 yellow zone restrictions.

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that due to rising cases of the coronavirus, portions of Monroe County met the criteria to be determined a “yellow zone” microcluster.

Certain restrictions apply for yellow zones, including:

  • Houses of Worship: 50% capacity
  • Mass Gatherings: 25 people maximum, indoor and outdoor
  • Businesses: Open
  • Dining: Indoor and outdoor dining, four person maximum per table
  • Schools: Open with mandatory weekly testing of students and teachers/staff for in-person settings The New York State Department of Health will establish a percentage of teachers and students/staff who need to be tested by Friday

Graupman said that the increased testing in Monroe County schools will start next week.

“So we recognize wholeheartedly the concern that parents may have around this,” Graupman said. “It’s something from a process perspective that we expect to start next week because we need testing materials from the state that aren’t here yet.”

MORE | Bello, Dr. Mendoza on COVID-19 yellow zone in Monroe County: ‘Wake up call for the community’

Graupman said that the testing will all be done with understanding and consent.

“This will all be based on consent,” Graupman said. “We’re not going to bring students in for testing without family’s consent to say ‘that’s OK to do with my child in school.'”

Graupman, who is also the Superintendent for Greece Central School District, said that each school may have a different process for testing protocol, but says the test isn’t the deep nasal COVID-19 test.

“Some schools might choose to do it more an alphabetical way, some school might do by class,” Graupman said. “It is a nasal test, but it is not the deep nasal test that many of us have seen or experienced at most clinical sites right now — it’s shallow.”

Graupman says she hopes that students and staff participate for the community’s sake.

“I want parents and staff to understand that it’s not that deep nasal test and that it wouldn’t be done without consent,” Graupman said. “And we are hoping to have kids and staff participate because that is the way we can get off the yellow list, by increasing our negative numbers.”

MORE | 148 new COVID-19 cases as Monroe County reaches highest number of active cases to-date

Graupman said she hopes parents understand the need for the increased testing, and that if too many parents don’t consent that it could lead to a fully-remote learning model for Monroe County schools.

“As far as I’m concerned here in Greece, and I think the other districts too, a parent can say no and it doesn’t mean you have to go to remote learning,” she said. “The problem is, the way the state has written this in terms of our requirement, is we need to test new groups. A new 20% each week so if we get to a point where so many people haven’t provided consent, and we don’t have new kids to test, it could force us to have to go to a remote setting because we can’t make that requirement. If so many parents don’t, it will lead us to a full remote environment.”

Graupman says that schools can use nursing staff, but the state guidelines doesn’t require that.

“In Greece, we will be using our nurses as part of our process so we’ll also be using an outside agency,” she said. “We’re trying to be respectful of the nurses and the time it takes. From what I understand it doesn’t necessarily need to be a nurse, I think it can be an adult that’s trained.”

Graupman said that 20% is a high rate of testing, but the students who are currently fully remote can be counted into that calculation. She also says that her, along with other local education leaders, remain committed to the teaching process first.

“That isn’t our first business, our first business is to actually teach and learn,” Graupman said. “So we’re trying to keep our priorities straight and focus on that while setting up this system.”

MORE | Duffy on COVID-19 yellow zone restrictions: ‘Would hate to see this become political’

Monroe County Publish Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza said Monday that the risk at schools remains low, but the community spread outside of schools can impact in-person instruction down the line.

“I said it before and I’ll say it again, our schools remain the safest place, but sadly they have the most to lose if we don’t get it together,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We now have a curve that we must flatten once again.”

Graupman said it’s frustrating that schools must endure the new demands, even while they have been successful for the most part.

“I find it frustrating, Graupman said. “We are the gold star; schools have been doing everything right. There isn’t transmission in schools, we’re contact tracing and not finding issues in school so we’ve done this right. This is a community issue and the schools and the districts basically are now shouldering all the pain for being put in that yellow zone.”

The state will be assisting in accelerated testing for school districts. The assistance also includes a less invasive test that doesn’t go all the way to the back of the throat, according to Mendoza.

“If the math and mention of fractions gives you anxiety, think of it this way,” said Webster Central School Superintendent Carmen Gumina. “Currently, the majority of people being tested have symptoms or have been contact traced. When we test people without symptoms (like students and staff), the positivity rate will go back down and help us return to a green zone.”

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said Tuesday that yellow zone restrictions will be in effect for municipalities, not zip codes. The impacted areas are:

  • City of Rochester
  • Irondequoit
  • Greece
  • Webster
  • Penfield
  • Perinton
  • East Rochester
  • Pittsford
  • Brighton
  • Henrietta
  • Chili
  • Gates

For elevating to the orange zone, the City of Rochester and Monroe County have slightly different criteria based on population density. To qualify for the orange zone designation, the City of Rochester would have to meet the following benchmarks:

  • Geographic area has 7-day rolling average positivity above 3% for 10 days AND
  • Geographic area has 10 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on 7-day average

To qualify for orange zone designation, Monroe County would have to meet the following benchmarks:

  • Geographic area has 7-day rolling average positivity above 4% for 10 days AND
  • Geographic area has 12 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on 7-day average

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