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Dear Families,

Thank you for participating in our school wide surveillance testing pilot. We appreciate your willingness to participate, for taking the extra time on busy mornings to swab your child, and for helping with funding. We have had an extremely high participation rate with the pilot. We have had full participation from eligible faculty and of the eligible group of children, only six opted out, two of whom are being tested elsewhere. In addition, many family members and babysitters have also participated. As we approach the end of our pilot, we wanted to share an update. 

From last week’s survey we learned that the vast majority of our community would like surveillance testing to continue. Most families want a lower cost option and feel that the location of the swabbing (home or school) does not matter. With that in mind, we are planning to continue testing, moving towards an option that we hope will meet these needs.

We are pleased to announce a transition to a new addition of our multi-layered mitigation strategy: rapid antigen testing.

We will now be able to rapidly test in three distinct situations: 

  1. For purposes of routine surveillance
  2. When symptoms of illness develop at school
  3. After exposure to a positive contact 

Joining many local schools, we will be using the Abbott BinaxNOW test, a rapid antigen test which uses a lower nasal swab and gives results in about 15 minutes. Recent studies demonstrate that the tests have excellent sensitivity in detecting high viral load in both adults and children. The swift turnaround time for results and the reliability of the test make it a valuable tool to reduce risk of viral transmission in our community.  

For purposes of surveillance
We will rotate through classes, testing several classes each day, with the goal of testing each child at least once every 10 days starting on Monday, February 22. Typically this will be done while your child is at TBS and will not involve any extra work from families. The cost for enrolled children will be covered by TBS.  

February 21 drive up testing 
One exception to the move to testing during school hours is a drive up/walk up testing day on Sunday, February 21 from 3-5pm. Although we know families are being very careful during breaks and are limiting gathering and traveling, this testing date is an added precaution as we return from the break, in order to identify any positive individuals before they return to TBS. We encourage you to participate if you can. The cost for enrolled children will be covered by TBS. Registration is required so that we know how many tests to prepare. Sign up here

Note: For return to MA from out of state, a PCR test is required as per the MA Travel Requirement. This is a rapid antigen test and although highly reliable, doesn't meet the state law for return after out of state travel.

When an individual develops symptoms of illness at school
BinaxNOW provides us with an added data point if children or staff develop symptoms of illness at school. We expect it to meld seamlessly into the process you have participated in with such success this year. If your child shows symptoms of illness at home, please continue to keep your child home, contact us, consult with your pediatrician, and arrange for a COVID test outside of TBS if recommended by your pediatrician. 

If your child develops symptoms of illness at TBS, we will call you to pick your child up as usual. While you are on your way, if these symptoms indicate a rapid test would be helpful, we will administer the rapid test. This will allow you to have additional information as you determine next steps for your child’s care.

Why not just continue to use the PCR testing as we have for the past month? 
Having made it through the local and statewide peak in cases, and with the rapid testing now in place, we have decided not to continue to use PCR tests for school wide surveillance as we have been for the past month for several reasons. 

First and most importantly, we want flexibility in the day and time of testing, and sending tests to an out of town lab doesn’t allow that. Second and also very important, we value instant results, and we know that removing a positive individual from the classroom environment better protects others. In addition, the logistics of preparing and shipping the swabs is extremely time consuming and complex. We know that vaccinations for children are likely a year off and are now planning for a longer term solution that can be continued through that period if needed. 

The rapid testing is faster to administer, faster to result, and comes at a much more reasonable price point (about $15 vs about $50 for the PCR test). The ease of use and more affordable price gives us the ability to continue the program for as long as the health situation requires.

Next steps:

  • Sign the consent form for testing and reporting the results to the Department of Public Health, as you would do if you tested anywhere in Massachusetts. Click here to sign. 
  • If you are able to participate in the drive up testing session on Sunday, February 21 from 3-5pm, sign up here.
  • If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of rapid swabbing and why we chose BinaxNOW for use at TBS, please join us for an information session with Dr. Phoebe Olhava on Tuesday, February 16 at 8pm. We will record the presentation portion of the session for those who can’t make it. Register here.
  • Reply to this email with any questions.

We hope that the addition of onsite rapid testing will keep our community healthy and help our students and teachers miss fewer days of school.

Ellen

TBS Rapid Testing FAQs


Does my child still need to get tested outside of TBS? 
You still need PCR test in the following circumstances: 
  • When recommended by your doctor.
  • When returning to MA from out of state 
Can I continue to participate in the PCR testing program for my child/myself at TBS? I employ a babysitter/nanny/housekeeper. How should I test them?
Yes. Although we are transitioning from the weekly PCR tests, we are maintaining our arrangement with CIC Health and can still offer PCR surveillance tests on Thursdays.  We recommend that you continue to test visitors such as babysitters who regularly spend time in your household. It is up to you to decide which type of test you prefer:
  • Rapid test: $15 for those affiliated with TBS. ($20 for others) Must be swabbed at TBS, with family appointments available at flexible days and times. Results are delivered within 15 minutes. 
  • PCR: $50 for those affiliated with TBS. ($80 for others) Can be swabbed at home or at TBS. Only takes place on Thursdays. Results are typically returned Friday evening or Saturday morning. 
Please be in touch if you would like to participate in either type of testing. 

Why hasn’t TBS been using the BinaxNOW for the past month?
These tests have been provided for free to all public and private K-12 schools in Massachusetts by the Department of Public Health and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Unfortunately tests were not provided to early childhood or afterschool programs. This allowed these K-12 schools easy and free access to rapid testing, but left Abbott, the manufacturer, without any tests to sell to other institutions. The supply of these tests remains extremely limited, but Abbott has just begun to allow other schools to purchase tests. Permission from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health is required to run these tests onsite and TBS was granted that permission last week, enabling Abbott to fulfill our order of test kits just today.

Is this mandatory?
No, it is not mandatory. However, we strongly encourage all families to participate in this critical community mitigation strategy. Similarly to wearing a mask or washing hands, this strategy protects others in our school community and beyond. If you have questions or concerns about participating, we ask that you let us know so we can address those questions or concerns. We want to make the program work for all families.

What is the cost? 
TBS will be covering the full cost for all enrolled children, which is $15 per test, $5 for the test kit itself and $10 for the administration.

How will I find out my child's results?
Results will be delivered via Abbott’s Navica app. If your child tests positive, we will also contact you for pick up. On a weekly basis, as part of our regular weekly newsletter, we will report total tests administered and total tests negative and positive. At the recommendation of the health department, we are also moving notification of any household positives (regardless of testing location) to this weekly report. Next week, you will receive information on how to download and set up the app.

What can I expect if my child tests positive for COVID via a test at school?
We will call you to ask you to pick your child up as soon as possible and contact your pediatrician for instructions. 

What kind of test is it?
The test is a rapid antigen test strip, which gives results directly on the strip, much like a home pregnancy test. This is the less invasive test, which extends into the nose no further than the soft tip of a Q-Tip would. If you are curious about the test and the reliability of antigen testing, read this fact-packed overview by Brown University economics professor Emily Oster.

How is the test administered? 
The process is the same as you have been doing with the swabbing at home and many children will be able to self swab with guidance. Several of our educators will be trained to administer the swab ensuring the process is guided by someone who understands child development and is sensitive to their needs.

What if my child resists the swab?
We want TBS to continue to be a place children love! Swabbing will be done with child development at the forefront.  If a child strongly resists, we will pause and try again at another time. No child will be forced into swabbing if they feel uncomfortable.  

How are we leveraging our testing efforts to support others? 
You may have seen the recent press coverage of our COVID-testing program at TBS, and while we are proud of our efforts to get our own Mayim Tamid and Children's Center students, faculty, and staff tested regularly to avoid virus spread, we are particularly happy that our work on testing is benefiting communities beyond our own, as we had hoped.  Since the stories of our testing were published, and throughout the pandemic, we have been receiving phone calls from other institutions - Jewish and not - who want to learn from what we've done so they can do the same.  We continue to regularly support these organizations with matters ranging from policy formation, to communications, to effective and caring responses to positive cases in their communities.  As part of the planning process to set up our testing program, we were in touch with a group trying to implement regular testing in low-income Boston preschools, and are participating in advocacy work with Governor Baker to provide free testing for all in the Commonwealth.  So too, when we heard that some Needham residents can't access free testing sites due to lack of transportation, we invited Needham's Public Health and Social Service Departments to notify us of anyone in that position so that we can get them tested through TBS.  We will continue to live by Rabbi Hillel's famous teaching, "If we do not take care of ourselves, who will do so for us, but if we only worry about ourselves...what kind of people are we?"
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