As COVID hits schools, parents scramble to test kids or face distance learning

Kendra Levine’s son, Eddie, is only 5 years old, but he immediately recognized the importance of negative results in the COVID-19 rapid tests he took at home last weekend.

The test, offered by the Berkeley Unified School District in California before students leave for winter break, meaning Eddie can return to school and see friends again after a two-week absence. Best of all, they mean Levine can get him to school on Monday with more peace of mind.

Levine, the son of someone you’re used to pandemic habits in the past two years. “For two years, much of his memory has been shaped by this. “We have to wear masks, we have to avoid people who aren’t wearing masks,” she said. “What we kept telling him was: We’re doing our part to keep others safe.”
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Students will return from winter break this week as COVID-19 cases fueled by Omicron variation spiked, Complicated efforts to keep school buildings open and safe for students and staff. Some school districts require students to present proof of a negative test. Others, faced with staff absenteeism and high infection rates in the community, have turned to distance learning.

Read more: CDC Director Rochelle Walensky confronts an emerging virus — and a crisis of confidence

The overall picture is one of confusion for parents, children and school staff as they try to adjust to what is shaping up to be another semester dominated by pandemic concerns. . For every family that has the right to take tests at home, there are countless others facing school closures or scrambling to seek out COVID-19 tests on their own in hopes of bringing their children to life. they return to the classroom.

All 51,000 public school students in Washington DC are required to submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test by Wednesday, before classes return on Thursday. In New York City, where the new mayor, Eric Adams, has vowed to keep schools open, officials have ramped up random testing in schools and said they will provide testing kits fast at home for every student and staff member in a classroom where someone has tested positive.

California leaders have pledged to give the state’s 6 million K-12 students at-home COVID-19 tests, predicting a winter break virus surge. But at a time when many schools reopened on Monday, only about half of those tests was delivered to the county, Los Angeles Times reported.

When Minneapolis Public Schools emailed families on December 30, asking them to “take the extra step of testing for COVID-19 before returning to school on January 3,” parent and epidemiologist Rachel Widome says the “Covid Test Hunger Game” has begun, as parents have been sharing tips in Facebook groups for finding quick tests at drug stores. The district shared a link to the community testing sites, but many overwhelmed by the long line.

Even in places like Berkeley, which offer tests, many families fail to report results. The district distributed state-supplied testing kits to approximately 12,000 students and staff, asking them to test on December 31 and again on January 2. About 64% (7,687 people) ) reported their test results, which showed almost 230 positive cases, a 2.95% positivity rate.

Read more: Achievement Gap ‘Brighter Than Ever’ for Students Coping With School Closures

Still, it was enough to reassure the superintendent, Brent Stephens, who said those positive results have helped district leaders minimize the spread of the virus in schools and allow those who had a positive test result safely isolated.

Stephens hopes these home tests – combined with regular school checks, mandatory mask wearing and mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for those 12 and older – will help keep buildings open. door for students.

It’s important to prevent the academic loss and social stress that has become more apparent during the extended school closures during the 2020-21 school year, he said.

Michael Loccisano — Getty ImagesStudents wear masks during an art class at Yung Wing PS 124 School on January 5, 2022 in New York City. Mayor Eric Adams has kept classrooms open for face-to-face lessons despite a high percentage of student and teacher absenteeism due to an increase in Omicron cases.

“That’s where they belong. That’s where they need to be. That’s where they can grow up. We’ve seen extremely negative effects of extended distance learning, including depression, mental health problems, feelings of isolation, lost opportunities for growth, adds Stephens. “We all feel a very strong commitment, as a community, to keeping schools open and ensuring that students are not deprived of important experiences again. ”

But rising COVID-19 cases have made that a challenge for counties across the country. Stephens said staff absenteeism in his district reached “a level we’ve never seen before” this week, with 65 staff absent Tuesday and only about 25 replacements available. to fill in. The district is considering sending certified office workers into classrooms to cover those absences.

In Chicago, officials canceled schools on Wednesday and Thursday as members of the teachers union voted not to report school buildings and called for distance learning amid coronavirus cases. coronavirus surge, asking the district to expand COVID-19 testing before they return.

But the lack of testing remains an obstacle across the country.

Widome, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota whose fourth-grade son attends Minneapolis Public Schools, bought the rapid tests and has some at home, but she knows she’s an exception.

“For many families, that’s probably an impossible question, given the lack of testing,” says Widome. “There are definitely infectious people in schools — students and staff alike — that, if they had access to a test, they wouldn’t be at school right now. And those are situations that can start a new chain of infection.”

President Joe Biden has pledged to improve testing availability and announced a plan to distribute 500 million free home rapid testing kits to Americans. But schools reopened this week without reinforcements.

“This will be easy. You don’t have to spend time, money, and intellectual energy and be a well-connected person to be able to access these tests,” says Widome. “We need to make it easier for individuals to do the right thing. We need to make it easy for people to take the test. And right now we’re making it really hard.”

Widome considers every day her son goes to school a victory, but even though he is well vaccinated and wears a mask, she worries about the risk of him still contracting COVID-19. And she’s frustrated that the simple act of sending her kids to school is still becoming acrimonious nearly two years after the pandemic.

She said: “I have certain grievances that I and others are in this situation, that the management has let us down so much that for two years, I had to worry about giving my child. I go to school. “I thought we might be in a better place now.”

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