NSBORO Covid Update: Seeking feedback on testing program, more Covid data, and clarification on snow days and closings

The Northborough Southborough Public Schools are looking into a potential weekly Covid testing program. A survey issued is to gauge the school community’s interest in participating.

One key metric they are looking to determine—how much are people willing to donate to the initiative to test and trace, even if their own family members might not get tested?

Meanwhile, a revamped Covid Dashboard gives more detail on the number of cases across the district to date.

Updated Covid Stats

Dashboard Oct 31 - pg 1On Sunday, the Superintendent posted a new Dashboard with infection metrics. (It notes that reports will now be issued weekly on Sundays.) While prior reports only provided a snapshot of a few days, the new report clarifies the situation to date. It lists the total number of district student and staff infected through Saturday, October 31st as 23.

[Note: As a Town, Southborough is up to 88 as of noon today. You can check my Covid-19 page for more details.]

Only four cases were still active as of the report. Three patients were linked to Algonquin, the other to a Northborough K-8 school.

A graph breaks out by district 18 cases confirmed since October 4th. (Prior dashboard reports seem to indicate that earlier cases were linked to Northborough and Algonquin.) An additional graph detailing cases and quarantines for October 25th – 31st appears to include cases that were confirmed prior to the date and released from isolation during that window. It shows 20 Algonquin students/staff members in quarantine due to in-school contacts.Dashboard Oct 31 - pg 2

Speaking of quarantines. . . With Thanksgiving approaching, the dashboard includes links for families about policies related to travel and the state’s guidelines for Thanksgiving celebrations.

Testing Proposal & Interest Survey

The announcement on proposed testing asks each family with NSBORO students to answer the survey. The survey asks parents’ willingness to allow their children to be tested. But the announcement makes clear it’s real goal is to determine families’ interest in financially supporting the initiative:

Our goal of this survey is to assess the willingness of Northborough and Southborough families to contribute to a COVID-19 screening program, regardless of your child(ren)’s learning model.

A presentation shared by Superintendent Gregory Martineau explains that the testing program would add a “sixth pillar” to the schools’ current risk mitigation efforts. (The existing pillars are social distancing, mask wearing, handwashing, symptom screening, and disinfecting/cleaning.) The new pillar would be weekly testing of district students, faculty, and staff.

Tests use would be PCR tests (not the less reliable “rapid” result tests). Results would be expected within 24-48 hours. “Pool” testing would expedite the process. A batch of tests are processed at once. They only have to be re-run individually if something comes back positive.  (You can read more about how other districts like Wellesley are pool testing here.) 

Still to be determined is whether tests would be conducted at home or school and whether they would entail nasal swab or saliva. (The presentation does note that it would not be a “deep” nasal swab.)

The interest survey announcement clarifies that participation wouldn’t be based on who contributes to the program. Tested participants would be prioritized by the district’s perceived needs:

The goal of this initiative is to screen all PreK-12 students and staff across our three Districts. However, if the fundraising efforts move forward and the funds raised do not allow for the testing across our ten schools, the COVID-19 testing will be prioritized in the following areas:

  • District faculty, and staff
  • Algonquin Regional High School (ARHS) students
  • Trottier and Melican Middle School students
  • Northborough and Southborough elementary students. . .

We are not asking families to fund a specific staff/student or one’s own child(ren). Rather, we are asking for families to support funding a program that would be implemented across the District. The scale of the initiative would be based on the dollar amount raised (See priority areas above).

The presentation states that the main goal of the testing program would be to sustain in-person learning and “Provide a path towards increased in-person experiences for students”. The survey does ask parents if adopting the testing program would cause them to change their child’s education model (Stand Alone Remote vs Hybrid). It doesn’t allow for any input on a path to increasing in-person learning or activities for Hybrid students already attending school

The effort is currently estimated as costing $15 per person/per week, with 20 weeks planned. (An RFP is being issued to determine the actual program cost. And the district hopes to offset costs with CARES Act funds and through pursuit of other partnerships.) Survey respondents are asked if they are willing to make a tax deductible contribution to cover one person getting tested, more than one person, or a partial contribution. (Responses are non-binding.)

The proposed initiative is part of a wider collaboration of schools:

The Public Schools of Northborough and Southborough have joined the “Safer Teachers, Safer Students: SARs-CoV-2 Testing Collaborative.” The Collaborative is a group of Massachusetts communities who are piloting programs to develop a comprehensive, coordinated infrastructure for asymptomatic COVID-19 screening of PreK-12 staff and students with the goals of detecting and reducing viral transmission and helping our schools remain open for in-person learning.

You can open the survey here. It is anonymous, but is meant only for NSBORO families, with one response per family.

School cancellation clarifications

With students fully geared up to learn online, the district clarified that there won’t be typical snow days this year. Instead, schooling will be handled remotely when it isn’t safe to attend school in-person. For hybrid students, on Tuesday – Friday:

teachers will teach their hybrid cohorts of students remotely that were supposed to be in-person on that day. Hybrid students who were not supposed to be in-person on that day will continue their asynchronous learning schedule.

Mondays would be full remote, the norm for most students. There would be a greater impact to some special needs students who normally attend Monday in person.

There was no information on how the school would handle power and internet losses that impact remote learning. I reached out to Superintendent Martineau. He said there had been internal discussion, but they will make that information “transparent” to families.

As for closures due to Covid:

If at any point in-school transmission has been identified, or more time was needed to complete contact tracing, the school would first shift students enrolled in the hybrid learning model to remote learning for a period of time (1-3 days).

During the 1-3 day remote timeframe, an emergency school committee meeting would be held to determine the appropriate length of remote learning (up to 14 days), based on the Board of Health’s recommendation. Synchronous learning would take place for all students and schools would use the fully remote learning schedule from the outset of the year.

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