Sacramento City Unified School District students shuffled through COVID-19 testing once a week last school year, regardless of their symptoms. This year, that program is ending, district officials said at Thursday’s board meeting.
The change to the so-called “surveillance testing” is a response to the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated Thursday. The CDC says it no longer recommends students exposed to COVID-19 test negative to continue going to class, as long as they’re feeling fine. That change is for all, regardless of vaccination status.
As a result, Victoria Flores, the director of student support and health services for the district, said SCUSD will be focused on “leaning into that home testing, getting those tests out to our community.”
“We will maintain our symptomatic or exposure testing through our care rooms at every single one of our school sites, and our regional testing centers will remain open in those three different areas with both a.m. and p.m. hours,” Flores said at the district’s board meeting. Care rooms are the district’s first-aid rooms dedicated to COVID-19 concerns such as isolation and testing.
Those regional testing centers are the Serna Center, Meadowview and the Albert Einstein Middle School. Albert Einstein is currently closed for the summer, but hours will update once school starts on Sept. 1.
She added that they hope to send out at-home tests with students at least once a month, and will distribute at-home tests in advance of school starting next month. The care rooms will also have at-home tests available for students to pick up if they want.
For students who are participating in high-risk activities — like athletics with a lot of close contact, orchestra, band and choir, and students who are at higher risk for developing COVID-19 — Flores said there will be a weekly testing day at “large schools or secondary schools.”
“It’ll be more than our care rooms can handle, because there’s such a large population,” she said. “So we’ll have that additional day and time for them.”
The shifted testing approach reflects a growing reliance on at-home COVID-19 tests as a detection and prevention measure. It’s also a reflection of increased understanding of how to better protect people from COVID-19 exposure, according to CDC official Dr. Greta Massetti.
“This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives,” Massetti said in a statement.
Still, researchers like UC Davis professor Dr. Jonathan Eisen caution against treating the virus casually, especially given developing research around long COVID.
Eisen notes COVID-19 is still worse than the flu, which kills 50,000 people a year on average in the United States, and that little is known about the lasting impacts of the virus.
“I don’t think it makes sense to just say ‘We should live with it,’” he said. “If we let COVID spread over and over and over into populations, it seems like we are taking a huge risk with something that is well-established to be a real thing.”
The district also voted Thursday night to enable greater flexibility in responding to CDC community levels, a metric based on hospitalizations and case rates that’s meant to represent the level of disease in a community.
Previously, when Sacramento County reported a “high” CDC community level, masks were required indoors per the district’s policy. When it was at a “low” or “medium” level, the district moved back to a mask recommendation.
New guidance, approved by the board, means that when the CDC updates its community levels on Thursdays, the district will shift its masking guidance the following Monday. Previously, the district would wait two weeks before changing its masking policies.
“When we shift to that high level, and we’re back on that trajectory of widespread COVID, we want to do everything we can to protect in-person learning,” Flores said. “That’s why we’ll put that additional layer on and face masking would be required indoors.”
The district will continue to maintain its stock of KN95, N95 and KF94 masks for students and staff who need them.
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