Summit County schools have started testing students participating in extracurriculars for COVID-19
A few days before Thanksgiving, a state health official announced that all high school students and staff who participate in extracurricular activities must be tested for COVID-19 before they can compete or perform.
The announcement came with scant detail about how to accomplish that, leaving local school districts to establish systems to test hundreds of students, another tall task in a year full of challenges.
“It was a surprise and initially we were skeptical at how we were going to be able to pull it off,” said South Summit School District spokesperson Jodi Jones. “Thanks to teamwork between our district and high school administration, lead nurse and athletic trainer, as well as the Summit County Health Department, it has come together quickly and seamlessly.”
Jones added that the district is getting the support it needs from the state, including the supply of COVID-19 tests.
All three Summit County school districts reported that they started testing students after Thanksgiving break, and that they were receiving help by way of supplies, personnel and tests from the state and local level.
South Summit began a testing regimen Tuesday even before students returned to classrooms from a preemptive week of remote learning.
In Park City, Superintendent Jill Gildea said the district set up a testing center in the Eccles Center lobby with a plan to test some 200 high school students and staff per week. The state provides the tests, the county provides the personal protective equipment and the nonprofit People’s Health Clinic is facilitating volunteer medical personnel, Gildea said.
“We are so fortunate to have such a collaborative county and professionals willing to support all efforts to keep our kids safely engaged in school and activities,” Gildea wrote in an email to The Park Record.
The North Summit School District started testing Thursday, Superintendent Jerre Holmes said, with plans to test about 175 people involved in extracurricular activities, including coaches and staff. North Summit High School has 328 students.
Holmes added that teachers would be offered testing starting the second week of December.
Jones said South Summit did not have plans to make testing available to teachers, while in Park City, Gildea wrote that educators will be able to use the testing site while it is open, which is from 8 a.m. to noon Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
The state public health order requires a person to receive a COVID-19 test within 14 days prior to participating in a high school extracurricular activity. That includes sports teams and their support personnel, like coaches, managers and athletic trainers.
Jones indicated that, in South Summit, band, orchestra and theater participants will be tested when it comes time for performances and their competition seasons.
Gildea said that specific Park City teams have scheduled days for testing, so the swim team might be tested on a Monday and a basketball team tested on a Wednesday. She said she anticipated testing to continue into the new year and as long as the state requires it.
The state is paying for the rapid antigen tests the districts are using, which take about 15 minutes to return results, officials said. The Abbott-BinaxNow nasal test requires a test administrator to place a swab about one inch inside each nostril of the person receiving the test. The administrator then applies a reagent liquid to a test card and places the swab in the card to await results, according to the manufacturer’s website.
The results appear as one or two lines, similar to a pregnancy test. Gildea indicated that people who test positive for COVID-19 would be advised to follow up with a more accurate PCR test.
Gildea also said that parents would provide consent for their student to be tested.
She said the Eccles Center lobby provides enough room for test-takers to socially distance and that the district has set up an “air scrubber” circulation system and UV light towers to help keep the area safe.
The test administrators change their county-supplied protective equipment following each test, Gildea said.
Summit County Health Department officials are assisting in South Summit, as well, support Jones called “invaluable.”
Despite some early hiccups, like the state reporting software crashing, Jones said that the district has the support it needs from state and local partners.
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