SCCPSS leaders explain new weekly COVID testing requirement for some students

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools will soon require students in athletics and other activities to be tested for COVID-19 every week.

Students participating in athletics, cheerleading, band, and junior ROTC will undergo mandatory testing, district officials said. The deadline for students to register is next Monday, with testing beginning on October 18. If those students do not register for weekly testing, they will not be allowed to continue participating in their programs, officials said. 

Parents have shared their concerns with News 3 about the new program, including having to provide their driver’s license and social security numbers to register.

“If this is what they want to do to make sure these kids are safe, I don’t have a problem with that,” parent Ela Gavrilas said. “But then they should not request anyone regardless of their insurance status, whatever status, they should not ask any personal information and insurance information.”

Kurt Hetager, chief of public affairs and administrative officer, explained that information is used to match the testing sample with the student.

“This is a company that has an extensive background in diagnostic testing,” Hetager said. “They’ve been doing that component of their business for a long time and they’ve added COVID testing selection to it and they’re working with a laboratory, Vero Diagnostics, who will get that information. That’s between the parent, the company and the lab.”

The school district is partnering with COVID Testing Appointments, LLC to administer the tests. District leaders said the third-party service will better support the demand to test up to 2,000 students a day.

“They’ve assured us they can have PCR testing back turnaround time typically in 24 hours,” Hetager said. “What we’ve found in our experience over the last year and a half, that really is somewhat of a rarity. There are a number of areas locally that you can go to a walk-up location and it’ll take three, sometimes four days to get your PCR test back.”

Students will not have to quarantine during that 24-hour period, according to Hetager. The district will be alerted of any positive test results.

District leaders told News 3 they are starting weekly testing with this group of students due to the close contact nature of the activities. But, they intend to expand it to all students at some point.

“We’ve had some challenges in that area with having to cancel games, reschedule as many games as possible, maybe shut down some teams,” said Bernadette Ball-Oliver, Associate Superintendent of Secondary Schools. “We’re looking to avoid that as well as recognizing these students go back into the school environment on a daily basis.”

Parents also told News 3 they are concerned with the cost associated with the weekly testing. The district said there is no out-of-pocket expense for parents.

“There’s no patient responsibility or there’s no billing that will come back to the insurance carrier,” Hetager said. “The company in their process is going to need that information but by CARES Act, there is no cost to the insurance carrier. The insurance companies will be covering and reimbursing the labs for those costs that are incurred.”

The district will use CARES funds to reimburse families without insurance.

Last week, the school district reported its lowest number of positive COVID cases since the start of school. Leaders said the weekly testing is a proactive measure.

“The winter months are upon us and there could be a situation where we could see the numbers, unfortunately, trend back up,” Hetager said. “We hope that that is not the case, but we want to be prepared for it. We think that programs like this are going to put us in a very good position to keep our doors open.”

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