Goho: Schools will wait and see on testing program

Goho: Schools will wait and see on testing program

NORTH PROVIDENCE – As students head back to school this week, the state is rolling out a new COVID-19 surveillance testing program for schools.

For now, North Providence School Supt. Joseph Goho said the district will be taking a “wait and see” approach with regard to the program.

Goho said he’s spoken to the districts involved in the surveillance testing pilot program last month, learning that the rollout was “a significant and labor-intensive undertaking” for school leaders already stretched thin during the pandemic.

“They said it took two and a half hours to test a single cohort of students,” Goho said. “My concern is the fact that the schools are already under such duress with contact tracing.”

Contact tracing involves alerting those who have been exposed to a person with COVID-19. Goho said the school district is essentially responsible for contact tracing because the state has been running behind in notifying individuals.

“We’re contact tracing using classroom seating charts, bus seating charts … we do it all to determine and notify close contacts of exposures,” Goho said. Close contacts are advised to quarantine.

That process takes up a lot of resources, he said, and the district currently has three school nurses out on medical leave, further depleting the staffing.

If the district is to begin surveillance testing, he said, the administration of tests would fall on school nurses, principals and other trained personnel.

“From what we understand from the districts that participated in the pilot version, this requires an awful lot of time and planning,” Goho said. “So for now, we’ll wait and see.”

Surveillance testing helps gauge the prevalence of COVID-19 within a school community by periodically evaluating samples from randomly selected non-symptomatic individuals.

Goho said North Providence school leaders will be closely observing other school districts who do begin surveillance testing this month. He is also hopeful that an at-home version of the surveillance test will become available to families.

“We have asked if we could have BINAX tests available at the schools for symptomatic students and staff, but the state does not yet have BINAX tests available for schools,” he said.

The town has opened its own testing site at the North Providence Public Safety Complex across from North Providence High School, which Goho said is a convenient location for families seeking a test.

With that added resource, he said, there may not be a need at this point for the schools to take on their own “labor-intensive” surveillance testing program.