Schools dropping test-to-stay and contact tracing for at-home testing

Most Abington students who come in close contact to someone with COVID-19 will soon be able to remain in class under a new district-wide policy announced Thursday.

Starting in early February, the school system will drop its so-called “test-and-stay” policy for asymptomatic students considered close contacts, as well as stop contact tracing efforts. Instead, the district is opting into a new voluntary weekly home testing program being promoted by the state Department of Public Health and Department of Early and Secondary Education. 

“This means that if your child is a potential contact in school, they may continue to come to school and do not have to quarantine,” Schools Superintendent Peter Schafer said in an email to parents and guardians. “In a very small percentage of cases, our school nurses, in conjunction with the administrative team, may choose to recommend in school testing for close contacts.”

Families interested in taking part in the at- home testing program will receive free antigen tests from the state through Abington schools.

Schafer said he hopes families will choose to take part in the at-home testing program.

“The more people who do it, the better,” he said in an interview.

By all indicators, COVID is far more likely to spread among family members and through indoor gatherings than between students and teachers in the classroom. But students considered a close contact either had to miss multiple days of school while quarantining, or if they were asymptomatic, take a daily antigen test in-school if they were fully vaccinated. 

The new policy reflects the belief among state health and education officials that the number of cases of in-school spread being prevented wasn’t worth the number of school days being missed.

“This will enable school health staff to spend more time and resources identifying symptomatic individuals and focusing on other aspects of COVID-19 management,” according to a release from the Baker Administration. “Schools must continue to participate in symptomatic and/or pooled testing in order to take part in the new at-home test program.”

The release said that as of January 9, 503,312 test-and-stay tests had been conducted by schools and that 99 percent of them had come back negative.

During one stretch in early January, 23 percent of Abington’s students and staff were either in isolation, in quarantine, or caring for family members. 

“This will allow students to remain in class safely,” Schafer said.

Symptomatic students and staff may still be tested in school. 

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