It can be very hard to get a COVID-19 test these days, with the omicron surge overwhelming testing facilities and pharmacies alike. In light of those changes to the testing landscape, the Lake Travis school district offered staff five additional days of leave to use while waiting on test results.
Evalene Murphy, the assistant superintendent for employee and community relations, said the policy is retroactive starting Jan. 3, which means any staff member who has used sick days or vacation days waiting for a test result can apply those extra leave days instead. The new policy is separate from the sick days allocated to staff who test positive for the virus, Murphy said.
Murphy said the district changed this policy in response to staff members having difficulty finding testing appointments and then having to wait longer than in the past for results to come back.
“In the past people could pretty much get same-day or next-day tests, and usually within 24 to 36 hours have results, so they maybe would miss maybe a day or two,” Murphy said. “Whereas now, they're sitting out anywhere from three to five days, just waiting for those results.”
Murphy said the policy change will not affect staffing levels at schools because the teachers taking advantage of these five extra days would have been out anyway.
“They're sitting out because they're having some type of symptom that's on the COVID list,” she said. “So once they're having the symptoms, they have to go out and go get a PCR test in order to be able to return earlier than what our quarantine period would be, (which is 10 days).”
The policy change comes as schools across the region have been struggling to find substitute teachers amid rising staff absences since classes resumed after the winter break. The nearby Marble Falls school district announced it would close all campuses on Friday because of staff shortages related to illness.
Murphy said the Lake Travis school district's administrative team is doing everything it can to support staff through this surge and beyond, including offering rapid testing for those who have had close contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus. The district had to reduce rapid testing to two days a week instead of three given supply shortages, but Murphy said offering those tests is an important way to ease staff anxiety around possible infections.
“Just the fact that we're able to give them that rapid testing, it definitely helps calm the fear and helps people feel like ‘I'm OK, I was negative, I’m good for a couple days,’” she said. “As a district, we're trying to do everything that we can to help support our employees.”
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Lake Travis schools give staff extra days to wait for COVID test results