CONWAY – A month after choosing not to participate in a Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Education initiative that allegedly provided free COVID-19 testing for students and staff in the Conway School District and with coronavirus cases on the rise, the Conway School Board reversed the course Monday night.
The board voted 6-0 to support the Safer at School Screening (SASS) program. Superintendent Kevin Richard asked council to review the program in his council report on Monday. He sees the program âas one more tool in the district’s toolbox when it comes to containing the pandemic.
âAs you well know, the number (of COVID-19 cases) is the highest they’ve been in Carroll County in two years,â he said. âAnd that’s no surprise. We have been doing quite well so far with the students at school. We have, since last week, a cluster in high school. And it was the result of an athletic team.
Richard added: âWe have had five cases and are working with the Department of Public Health. They identified this as a cluster. Richard said that means “there is a high probability that due to activity” the virus will spread.
Richard said Thursday there have been more than 10 positive cases of the virus this week, including only seven in high school, increasing the likelihood that this will mark the most cases in a single week in the school district.
If SASS had been available at Kennett High, Richard thinks it would have helped.
âWe would be able to test everyone on the football team, with permission, to really identify some of these asymptomatic pieces,â he said.
Richard invited Kennett High School nurse Pam Clay-Storm to provide the meeting with more information about the SASS program.
“The way I see SASS, and I could explain it from a public health perspective, but it gives our families a choice, it’s a solution, a direction that we can offer them, it’s free, these are optional tests, âshe said.
As to how SASS allegedly helped with COVID-19 cases on the football team, she said the school district could have asked the SASS provider to come on a weekly schedule to allow testing for individuals. of a cohort.
âThe virus sometimes spreads through a cohort, which is the origin of this cluster,â she said. âSo identifying people who may be infected but not have any symptoms would help slow the spread. This would therefore be a component that we could have used SASS in our current situation. “
Clay-Storm sees nothing but positive about being in the SASS program and has called it a “proactive and preventative measure”.
“And it’s completely voluntary,” she said, adding: “If we had identified any of these cases, perhaps we could have prevented the situation we are in now where we have, you. know, five identified cases that we know about.
Clay-Storm said SASS can provide testing for cohorts and families around Day 5 after exposure. âWe want to contain it. We want more students to no longer miss time in school because they are infected with the virus, âshe said.
On September 27, the board voted 3-1-3 not to continue the SASS program, which is currently used in about 40 percent of Granite State schools, including the University of New Hampshire.
Board members Courtney Burke, Randy Davison and Ryan Wallace rejected the initiative as Joe Lentini was in the minority and colleagues Dr Michelle Capozzoli, Joe Mosca and Jessica Whitelaw abstained.
Pam Stimpson, director of special services at SAU 9, shared information about the initiative, which began last April. âThis is a voluntary, no-cost initiative from New Hampshire Public Health,â she said Monday. “And they’re looking to partner with schools across the state to offer free COVID testing in our schools for our students and staff.” She said SASS can use to reduce the chances of COVID-19 spreading and help schools stay open for face-to-face learning.
Stimpson said test results come back within 24 hours. She has worked with school nurses, NH Public Health and in partnership with the University of New Hampshire and Stewart Ambulance Services.
On Monday, following Clay-Storm and Richard’s call for SASS, board members were receptive to the program.
âMy concern was that I didn’t fully understand it and I didn’t want it to be something the school mandated,â Davison said. “I guess I would be okay if individuals can’t afford it and families have to get it finished in order to get back into a team or into a building.”
He added: âIt’s optional. It is not mandatory. It is not mandatory. It is therefore a consideration that we expose. It has come to my attention that some people cannot afford the fees. It’s something as a school I think we should allow because not everyone is on the same playing field. “
The test is currently $ 135 for those not in the SASS program, who would take the test at no cost to the individual.
âWe have a certain socio-economic group, and I would be very happy to help them get what they need to make sure they are in the classrooms,â Capozzoli said.
Davison, who was on the dominant side of the Sept. 27 vote, brought forward a motion to enlist in the SASS program. Capozzoli seconded the motion.