PEABODY, MA — Peabody Public Schools will participate in the state's new coronavirus testing system for students and staff.
Peabody Superintendent Josh Vadala confirmed to Patch on Tuesday afternoon that the district opted in to the new program which makes students and staff who register eligible for weekly rapid at-home tests and eliminates the school-based "test-and-stay" and contact tracing programs.
Vadala made the district's acceptance into the new program part of his report to the Peabody School Committee Tuesday night.
Vadala told Patch that Peabody is in line to receive tests this week for staff distribution on Jan. 28. Students will receive tests on Feb. 4. Staff and students are asked to take the tests on Sundays unless they are symptomatic or a close contact of a positive case — at which time they can be used earlier.
Each student and staff member will receive a box of two tests to be used once each week. Students and staff must sign up for the new program, which is voluntary. Parents of students who test positive are expected to notify the school and follow coronavirus quarantine guidance.
The new state guidance replaces the contact tracing and test-and-stay programs that have been widely praised for keeping in-school transmission relatively low but are also heavily taxing on school nurses' offices.
Vadala said at the meeting that out of 6,621 tests taken in the test=and-stay program this school year there were 115 positive cases (1.7 percent).
"We found that we had 98 percent of our people were testing negative anyway," Vadala said Tuesday night. "So the state has allowed us to participate in this and it's really putting the option on the families. It gives a little more empowerment to our families and our staff that they can test at home."
The end of contact tracing means that if a student tests positive there will be no automatic testing procedure for classmates, coaches or teachers who may have been at the same lunch table, on the same sports team or in the same classroom.
"We are not identifying close contacts," Vadala said. "Once we begin this program, anybody who wants to participate can participate but we are no longer asking anyone to quarantine at home or school-sponsored sporting events, or anything like that (unless they test positive in a voluntary test or have symptoms).
"There will be no more close contacts."
The state made the decision whether to make the switch optional, at least for now, for districts with the choice having far-reaching consequences on how the virus will be mitigated in schools as the omicron spike wanes and districts enter the third year of pandemic response.
(Scott Souza is a Patch field editor covering Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Peabody, Salem and Swampscott. He can be reached at Scott.Souza@Patch.com. Twitter: @Scott_Souza.)