Schools must mandate COVID-19 testing

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Olivia Platt, Staff Writer

The mass reopening of institutions, relaxation of social distancing protocols, and harsh incoming winter weather have led to a surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the country.  As cases skyrocket, many in-person and hybrid schools are left to decide whether to shut down or remain open.  Assuming a full lockdown is not reinstituted, many of these schools optimistically hope to remain open, including Schreiber.  If schools plan on remaining open throughout the winter months, the question then becomes–how can they keep students safe and mitigate their case numbers?  Although there are many procedures to help do this, the most obvious and effective strategy would be to mandate COVID-19 testing for students and staff.  

“COVID-19 is a threat to the health of everyone at Schreiber, no matter how blasé some act when they disregard health guidelines.  The idea of mandatory testing makes me feel safer because it is a vital aid in controlling the disease.  Mandatory testing is thoroughly a good thing,” said junior Natalie Parker.  

But good things can be hard to come by.  Due to limited resources, mandating testing everyday or multiple times a week is unrealistic for the majority public school districts.  Most private colleges with students living on campus don’t test that often.  However, mandating testing, even if it is to a lesser degree, can still have a profound impact on case detection and mitigation.  

According to a SUNY press release, starting at the beginning of the fall semester, SUNY colleges and universities tested more than 270,000 students with a positivity rate of 0.52 percent.  System-wide cases continue to trend downward.  The rolling 7-day positivity rate is 0.32 percent, and the rolling 14-day positivity rate is 0.33 percent as of Oct. 27.  

With a thorough testing program, the SUNY schools have managed to keep their case numbers low enough and remain open through the entirety of their first semester.  Although up until this point, few Long Island public schools have done COVID-19 testing, they have still fared relatively well in containing the spread of the virus.  Researchers have found that COVID-19 is rarely transmitted within school environments that have strict social distancing and mask requirements.  This is the primary justification for schools to remain open through the holiday season, according to New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo.  

However, according to an article in The New England Journal of Medicine, most reopening plans have only focused on screening for COVID-19 symptoms.  Moving forward, symptom screening alone will not enable schools to contain COVID outbreaks.  Because an estimated 40% of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic and 50% of transmissions occur from asymptomatic persons, screening testing is critical to mitigating the spread of the virus.  

“The only way to keep our school open safely, especially as cases will inevitably rise in the winter, is to make sure that all infected students are detected and isolated.  Asymptomatic cases are especially common among young people, which means that in order to accomplish this, our school must make a concerted effort to  test the student body,” said junior Meiling Laurence.

Furthermore, having on-site testing would improve access to medical resources for underprivileged students, as well as ease the strain on medical facilities.  In a pandemic proven to disproportionately harm historically marginalized communities, we must take every step to ease the burden on families.  By having COVID testing at school, parents who may not have the time or means to bring their children to a free testing center would be able to do so.  By making Schreiber a hub for collecting coronavirus tests, all students, infected or not, would be able to avoid visiting a doctor’s office, where they could be putting others and themselves at risk.  

Although there may be hurdles budget-wise, schools must act as swiftly as possible to develop a plan to mandate COVID-19 testing.  Furthermore, it is indisputable that keeping children and our community at large safe is worth spending some money.  The value of a human life is not quantifiable.  Many students rely on school as a safe space, which is something that fully remote learning does not provide.  It would be devastating to students if schools were to close for the winter.  Safety is the number one priority, and mandatory COVID-19 testing might give officials the ability to create a safe and healthy school environment.