The Wake County school system could begin voluntary COVID testing of students and school employees by November.
Wake County school administrators laid out a three-phase plan Tuesday that would begin with voluntary testing for schools with active or potential COVID clusters. By the third phase, Wake would provide mandatory testing of unvaccinated school employees to comply with a new federal mandate.
Wake has been slow to start a COVID testing program, citing the logistical difficulties of testing in a district that has 160,000 students, more than 18,000 employees and more than 190 schools.
But the school board directed staff last month to begin planning a voluntary testing program.
School officials are finalizing an agreement with Mako Medical, the vendor in a state program to help schools do COVID testing. Parental consent would be needed for students to be tested.
Piloting the testing program
Phase One could start in early November. It would involve:
▪ Voluntary school testing at campuses with active or potential COVID clusters. A cluster is defined by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services as five or more related cases within a 14-day period.
▪ Voluntary testing of central office employees would be offered at designated sites.
‘We’re almost piloting the initial phase so that we can learn from any mistakes or bumps in the road that we see and then working on how that will look across all schools,” said Paul Koh, assistant superintendent for student support services.
Koh and Superintendent Cathy Moore said that schools might be selected for Phase One if they have a high number of COVID cases but no epidemiological link has been found yet. Schools might also be chosen if several cases appear to be linked but it’s not been declared a cluster yet.
People will be given PCR tests, which are more accurate but may take longer to get results back.
Samples from different people would be tested together in a pool. If the result comes back positive, more detailed tests would be done on each individual sample to determine who may have COVID.
In Phase Two, which could begin in late November to early January, voluntary testing would be open to all schools. It would be launched on a rolling basis, potentially 50 schools at at time.
Mandatory testing for employees
Phase Three would align with a new federal requirement that employers with at least 100 employees get their workers fully vaccinated or give them weekly COVID tests. A September survey of district employees shows that close to 90% say they have received the COVID vaccine or plan to do so.
Phase Three could begin in January.
Unlike some neighboring districts, Wake hasn’t required employees to be vaccinated or student-athletes to get COVID tests.
Details of the new testing program are coming as the number of new COVID cases have begun slowing in North Carolina.
In addition, federal approval could be given soon to allow children ages 5 to 11 to receive the COVID vaccine. School officials said Tuesday they’re collaborating with Wake County Health and Human Services about vaccine rollout for 5-to-11-year olds.