After 3 months, coronavirus testing will soon resume at Montclair schools

Coronavirus testing will resume at schools in Montclair, after a nearly three-month gap since a previous testing contract expired in December. Although the risk of coronavirus is low in Montclair, the district is still doing everything it can to keep students safe, Superintendent of Schools Jonathan Ponds said at a Montclair School Board meeting Wednesday, March 2. . (KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR LOCAL MONTCLAIR)

By TALIA WIENER
[email protected]

Coronavirus testing will resume at Montclair Public Schools in the coming weeks, just under three months after the district’s previous testing contract expired.

In December, the neighborhood contract of nearly $300,000 with seller Ginkgo Bioworks, first approved on October 6, expired with no classroom testing replacement in place. The cost of the contract was “unsustainable,” Montclair School Board President Latifah Jannah said at a Jan. 5 board meeting.

The costs of the tests had been covered from the outset by existing funding from the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund, Superintendent of Schools Jonathan Ponds said at an Oct. 7 board meeting. The testing fee was later fully reimbursed by an American Rescue Plan/Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief III grant, according to a January 21 community post from Ponds.

On March 2, the Montclair school board unanimously has approved a contract with Sunrise Diagnosticsa subset of Sunrise Group of Companies, to administer nasal PCR tests at no cost to the district.

Insured students will be asked to provide their insurance information but will not be charged, Sunrise COO Anwer Qureishi said. Sunrise had no problem with insurance companies rejecting requests for weekly coronavirus testing for asymptomatic people, he said. If this changes, Sunrise will notify the district.

For uninsured students, Sunrise submits claims to the federal government under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Qureishi said.

Sunrise will provide test results within 12 hours of receiving a test at the South Plainfield lab, and they will be sent to the school district the morning after the test, Qureishi said. The district will then notify families of any positive results, Felice A. Harrison-Crawford, assistant superintendent of operations and school support services, said at Wednesday’s meeting.

Sunrise testing will be individualized, a change from the pooled testing system previously used in the district (under the pooled testing system, if a positive result was found in a pool, students and staff in the pool would then receive follow-up individual testing ).

Sunrise staff will perform nasal swabs, also a change from the previous routine, where students self-administered swabs.

Students will be expected to take tests together by class, Harrison-Crawford said during the meeting.

The tests would take place at a few schools each day, Monday through Thursday, Qureishi said at the meeting. Sunrise made its plans based on the number of students who had consented to testing in the district at the start of this school year, 3,589, (group testing had been offered on a voluntary and optional basis).

Qureishi gave an example: On Mondays, Sunrise conducted 853 tests: 566 at Montclair High School, 146 at Renaissance at Rand Middle School, and 141 at Edgemont School.

The number of interested students may change, but Sunrise is equipped to expand or reduce services as needed, Qureishi said.

Harrison-Crawford has yet to respond to questions sent to her district email Thursday seeking clarification on testing locations.

Sunrise and the district will need two weeks to prepare for the start of testing, Harrison-Crawford said at the meeting. She did not share an exact date when testing would begin.

Board members Eric Scherzer and Crystal Hopkins said at the March 2 meeting that they were concerned about the possibility of false positives from students who previously had coronavirus and are no longer infectious.

“The possibility is there,” Qureishi said in response to their concerns. “But I would say 99% of the time our results are very accurate.”

Consent forms will be sent through Genesis, the school’s information portal for families, as they have been before, Harrison-Crawford said. She did not say when the form would be sent. Parents and caregivers can change their permissions at any time, giving or revoking consent for testing, Harrison-Crawford said.

The district will also continue to provide after-school testing opportunities throughout the year, Ponds said Wednesday. Livingston’s Medi Mobile offers free, rapid antigen testing three days a week at the George Inness Annex at Montclair High School, 141 Park St., Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 4-6 p.m.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure we can keep schools open, keep people safe and make things work,” Ponds said at the meeting.

On Saturday March 5, the district also welcomes a free vaccination clinic from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Charles H. Bullock Schoolno appointment necessary.

As of Thursday, March 3, there had been a total of 437 student coronavirus cases and 116 staff cases since the start of the 2021-22 year. according to the district’s COVID-19 data dashboard. Over the past week, the district reported 11 student cases and one staff case.

Sunrise first provided information on a testing plan for Montclair schools at the January 6 board meeting. During the meeting, Qureishi said he would be ready to make a formal presentation at the January 19 board meeting. The presentation did not take place and there was no mention of Sunrise Group or any other testing provider in a meeting until the one on March 2.

ponds also announced this week that masks will be optional for students, staff and visitors on Montclair school property once a statewide schools mask mandate expires on March 7. The decision was based on advice from the Centers for Disease Control, the state Health Department and the Montclair Health Department, and encouraged by declining cases and low transmission and risk rates in the area, said said Ponds in a community post.

“We are continuing with our testing, actually increasing our testing, because we believe that even though we are in a ‘low’ place and it doesn’t require testing, we can still be safe,” Ponds said at the meeting. from the administration board.

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