D181 to regroup after CDC change on saliva tests

Plans to add saliva screening for students in Community Consolidated Elementary District 181 have been temporarily put on hold due to new requirements announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are looking to identify asymptomatic individuals,” Superintendent Hector Garcia said during his COVID-19 update at Monday night’s board meeting. “We know we want to use a saliva-based test. We want those results to be in less than 24 hours. We’re looking for a test that would be $20 or less. We were hoping to bring forward some recommendations.”

Instead, Garcia explained new CDC guidance that differentiates between screener and surveillance tests. The surveillance tests the district was considering are intended only to monitor community outbreak of the disease.

“These results are not linked to individuals and cannot be used for individual decision-making,” Garcia said. “This difference in the CDC guidance has made us pause and essentially wait for more guidance from our health department as well as our legal team. At this time, we’re forced to put a pause on our efforts and start to consider other possibilities.”

Board member Meeta Patel, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, said she is disappointed that the CDC changed the requirements at this point in the school year.

“It’s really tying the hands of people who want to use these tests to identify possibly positive individuals so they can go get a definitive test, a diagnostic test,” she said. “It’s hindering schools’ abilities to stay open or increase attendance. I hope that we will get further guidance in the future.”

The requirements also indicate that sites performing point-of-care tests must obtain a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments certificate and receive Emergency Use Authorization, Patel noted.

“I think that this is where we are seeing some of the red tape and barriers and the effect on school districts even further,” she said. “The goal, I think, of everybody is to get students back in person in full session as safe as possible. This was one of the tools in our arsenal. I’m just expressing my disappointment at the current state.”

Board member Sheetal Rao, an internal medicine specialist, agreed.

“Some schools want that extra layer of security. To throw this wrench in at this time, in the middle of the year, when there is alternative screening that is available that seems to be working just fine, that is very disappointing,” she said.

Garcia said administrators will continue to look at other options, including tests that take longer to process and have a higher price tag.

“Hopefully in January I’ll be back with more information on possible testing for our students and staff,” he said.

As part of the COVID-19 update, the board was reminded that parents will have an opportunity to move students between remote and hybrid when the second semester starts Feb. 1. Depending on the number of students involved, those changes might require some teaching assignments to be altered, said John Munch, assistant superintendent for human resources.

“Once those changes have been made and the staffing decisions have been made and people have moved to accommodate those requests, any movement from hybrid to remote will need to be pretty limited,” Munch said, adding that students who need to move for medical reasons will be able to do so.

Garcia said January also might bring more details about vaccinations.

“More and more information is coming out about the vaccine and how that distribution is going to take place,” he said. “I’m confident in the next few weeks we’re going to hear more and more details about that.”

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean