District 181 mulls using a rapid nasal swab COVID-19 test

By Ken Knutson

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Availability of a cost-free rapid antigen test could play a role in enabling Community Consolidated District 181 return to full in-person instruction, officials said.

At Monday’s district board meeting, Superintendent Hector Garcia reported that a nasal swab COVID-19 test, known as BinaxNOW, could possibly be procured in quantities large enough for district use in helping identify asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals — and at no cost.

“You can understand why we are going to be working very hard to identify and develop the logistics” of using the test, Garcia said. “This is a critical component in terms of being able to assure our parents that, if we wanted to add another layer of safety, we have a test that is both reliable and that we’re able to execute during the day.”

The district is expected to begin conducting saliva surveillance testing beginning Feb. 1 as it looks to move from a hybrid model to full in-person instruction. The tests cost from $11 to $20 each, depending on the source.

Board member Meeta Patel cheered the news of the nasal swab option but also stressed the importance of determining the test’s long-term availability.

“A test that is no cost to the district is fabulous as long as it can steadily meet our needs,” Patel said. “Testing is really a tool to allow us to increase our safety, potentially get back to full reopen.”

Garcia said he would have more information on BinaxNOW by the board’s Feb. 8 meeting.

John Munch, assistant superintendent for human resources, told board members there are numerous benefits of returning to the full in-person model. But he also said because of the inability to provide 6 feet of social distancing with that number of students, a positive case would result in a larger number of students having to quarantine than under the hybrid model. Students considered to be close contacts must quarantine for 14 days.

Munch also said that at the middle schools, the majority of remote students and some hybrid students would receive new teachers under a full in-person model.

“It would require a wholesale schedule change because of how our curriculum is being delivered at the middle schools,” he said, explaining how teachers would need to be redeployed. “All remote instruction for middle school students would be provided through a livestreaming model rather than through dedicated remote classes.”

Students would be unmasked during lunch.

Garcia said he was encouraged by the case numbers following winter break.

“Both at the county level and at the community level, new cases and the positivity rate have been trending downward,” he reported, though he noted the number of cases reported within the school communities remain in double digits.

Students attendance is at 95 percent, and the scramble earlier in the year to recruit substitutes has been stabilized.

In terms of the vaccine rollout, Garcia said the DuPage County Health Department has organized schools by high school area for the purpose of coordinating vaccine acquisition and distribution. District 181 falls in the Hinsdale Central area. Garcia said Osco is the leading candidate to administer the vaccines, but the group wants to have multiple sources.

“We are feeling very, very positive that that organization is going to be able come through for us with the necessary number of vaccines that we need,” he said.

A survey of district staff indicated that 82 percent are interested in receiving the vaccine through the district.

Garcia said parents would be asked to complete a survey starting today, Jan. 28, on their preference between the hybrid and full in-person models.

Board member Sheetal Rao said families should be furnished with all the information presented at the meeting. Garcia said they will be.

“What is the will of the community when it comes to what they would like to see in the spring?” he asked, while declining to specify an exact percentage threshold. “We would really like to accommodate that.”

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean