Safer Teachers, Safer Students:
Back-to-School Testing Collaborative
Pilot Testing Program
In July of 2020, WEF launched a partnership with local scientists and school administrators to support an ambitious goal of establishing one of the first public-school viral testing pilot programs in the nation.
Background on the pilot testing program is provided below.
With the reopening of our schools, school administrators have planned for a number of measures to ensure the ongoing safety of our students and staff. These measures include face coverings, hand washing, physical distancing, additional cleaning protocols, and isolating anyone with symptoms. While there is great confidence that these measures will be sufficient for a safe reopening of schools in Wellesley, the lack of data to provide such assurance has created a diversity of opinions among WPS teachers and staff around returning to work. Similarly, there are differences of opinions among WPS parents with regard to the actual risk posed by sending their children to attend school in-person.
In order to address these concerns and to validate that the proposed safety measures are working, a team of medical professionals and scientists across diverse communities in MA (Chelsea, Revere, Watertown, Brookline, Wellesley, and Somerville) are working to implement a pilot program of weekly COVID testing for certain students and staff.
This collaboration of communities believes that access to testing should be universal, and have worked together in close coordination (as part of what is being called the Safer Teachers, Safer Students: Back-to-School Testing Collaborative) to create a general framework for SARS-CoV-2 testing in public schools. We believe this pilot is among the first of its kind in the public school setting, both in the State of Massachusetts and in the nation. If successful, this Pilot will reduce fear and anxiety about the return-to-school, pave the way toward ensuring that in-person public school K-12 learning can continue for as long as possible, and increase safety of teachers, students and our communities as a whole.
The pilot program consists of:
Ensuring a path for immediate testing for anyone with symptoms
A one-time test for all students and staff prior to the beginning of school
Weekly surveillance testing of staff to monitor for asymptomatic cases
Weekly surveillance testing of some WPS students to monitor for asymptomatic cases
Surveys to parents and staff about how the program is impacting their perceptions of safety
What are the Benefits of a Weekly Viral Testing Program?
(1) Immediate identification of students or staff infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), allowing for rapid isolation of individuals before symptoms appear, which would lessen the chance that the infection spreads in the community.
(2) Less time in quarantine for students or staff who have COVID-like symptoms but who may just have allergies, a cold, or the flu.
(3) Increased confidence for staff and parents in the safety of in-person learning.
(4) Data that shows that our safety measures are working, which could allow for WPS to continue in-person learning for as long as possible, even if numbers in MA go up.
(5) A possible pathway to returning to in-person learning five days a week. While this pilot program would not change WPS’s initial plans to implement a hybrid model of learning, low infection rates in our community combined with a successful testing program could open the door to revisiting full-time in-person learning.
The Need from Our Community
With the launch of the WEF COVID-19 Innovation Fund, WEF contributed $250,000 from its endowment to fully fund the cost of a one-time baseline test for all WPS students and staff. During the pilot phase of the program, weekly testing for staff and students was 100% funded by private donations to WEF.
In 2021, WPS is continuing weekly surveillance testing through a combination of WEF and WPS budget resources. Further details on this surveillance testing plan are available for viewing here.
Based on advice from the testing task force's Scientific Advisory Committee, components of the program have been prioritized for funding by WPS as follows:
(1) Ensuring a path toward immediate testing for symptomatic individuals (covered by insurance)
(2) One-time testing for all students and staff prior to returning to buildings
(3) Weekly assurance testing for teachers and staff
(4) Weekly assurance testing for high school and middle school students
(5) Weekly assurance testing for elementary students
Commitment to Equity
Universal access to testing, regardless of financial means, is a core tenant of the Safer Teachers, Safer Students: Back-to-School Testing Collaborative. It is our belief that Wellesley bears a civic responsibility to lead the charge in pioneering such a program, and to further advocate for funding to deliver equivalent programs in some of the hardest hit communities, so that their children may safely return to school. Those who would like to provide assistance to other communities should consider a donation to the Life Science Cares COVID-19 Response Fund.
Life Science Cares is a collective effort of the Life Science industry to eliminate the impact of poverty on communities in the greater Boston area. The organization provides human and financial resources to the most efficient and effective service organizations in greater Boston, and responded to requests from WEF and the Testing Collaborative to offer help in delivering testing programs for Chelsea and Revere.