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.
As announced on March 17, 2021, learnings from the pilot program have been leveraged to create a pathway for better, more cost-effective testing and safe school openings across the U.S. – serving as the basis of data used to develop a $10 billion funding program from the Biden Administration for testing in public schools.
Members of the Safer Teachers, Safer Students: Back-to-School Testing Collaborative have also submitted a manuscript summarizing key learnings from Wellesley's program. The manuscript has been posted online and is currently under review.
A link to the manuscript is provided below, along with the following note from the manuscript's primary authors:
We are proud to report that a manuscript detailing our experience with COVID-19 screening in Wellesley Public Schools has been submitted for peer review and is now publicly available. Please be assured that all data were deidentified (no individuals are named, and no identifying information is included), and only aggregate data are presented. Prior to submission we sought and received approval from the Massachusetts General Brigham Institutional Review Board (IRB) that appropriate privacy protections were in place. We are grateful to the educators, staff, students, and families of WPS for their support of this project, including the financial support of WEF and our generous WPS families. Our success demonstrates what can be achieved when people work together towards a common goal. It is our belief that this report will demonstrate the power of screening testing in managing the complexities of K-12 education during a health crisis such as the current pandemic, and that this tool can be adapted to other school districts to support safe in-person learning. As stated in the guiding principles of the Safer Teachers, Safer Students: Back-to-School Testing Collaborative, we truly believe that access to a safe learning environment at the K-12 level is a matter of social justice, and it is our hope that support at the federal and state levels will make such screening programs available to all districts, incorporating the valuable lessons learned and shared by WPS, so that children are provided an equal opportunity for public education and that educators are ensured of workplace safety.
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 together 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 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.
What are the Components of the Pilot Program?
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 Goals of the Pilot Program?
The goals of the pilot program are:
(1) Outbreak Prevention: Ability to prevent asymptomatic viral spread
(2) Reducing Fear and Anxiety: Ensuring essentially zero cases are within our schools
(3) Learning: Developing best practices for delivering a testing program in schools
(4) Maximizing Opportunity for In-Person Learning: Leveraging data to support decision-making without compromising safety
What are the Benefits of a Weekly Viral Testing Program?
The expected benefits of a weekly viral testing program are:
(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.
What is the Surveillance Testing Approach?
WPS is conducting a saliva-based pool (or population) test each week and is contracting with Mirimus to implement this evidence-based approach. This approach is responsive to practical public and private lab constraints (e.g., scarcity of testing materials, machines, and time) and enables the delivery of highly accurate test results within 24–48 hours. Mirimus will test the samples on behalf of WPS.
Further details on the WPS surveillance program are available by clicking on the links below.
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, and as further outlined on page 15 of the following document, 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.