Bedford Schools Seek Funding for Pooled Testing

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The Bedford Public Schools have applied to participate in a state-funded six-week regimen of pooled testing for the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad said Thursday morning that “we will hear back from them soon.  In the meantime, we are preparing all of the documents we will need for a smooth implementation and will have more information for the community soon.” Parents will receive information and permission forms.

If the schools want to continue the testing past March 28, they will need other funding options.

According to the governor’s office, pooled testing involves mixing several test samples together in a ‘batch’ or ‘pool,’ and then testing the combined sample for detection of Covid. The advantage of the approach is that more students can be tested using the same amount of laboratory resources as a single PCR test.

The nasal swab test is performed at least once per week and results are delivered in one to two days. If a pooled result is positive, then everyone in the pool receives an individual diagnostic test to identify positive individuals. They will have to follow isolation guidelines, and close contacts must quarantine.

Conrad told the School Committee on Tuesday that the Bedford schools will be making arrangements with a state-approved vendor. The program is expected to begin on Feb. 8, but that first week may be with just one of the town’s four schools as a pilot. Tracy Fernald, nurse leader, plans to visit the Watertown schools to see how the testing proceeds, Conrad noted.

The superintendent reported that the planning involves Heidi Porter, director of the town’s Department of Health and Human Services, and the cadre of school nurses. Bedford hopes to recruit nursing students from Middlesex Community College and volunteers from town Covid-19 testing to participate. “We will have all kinds of protocols,” he said.

Part of the deal is for Bedford results to be shared with the state Department of Public Health.

Committee member Brad Morrison encouraged the administration to ensure adequate publicity in the community.

High school senior Ryan Doucette, the student representative to the School Committee, pointed out that a high rate of participation will be required to make the results meaningful. Conrad said other districts have reported an initial participation rate of 60 percent, then spiking to as high as 80.

Committee members and the superintendent also expressed concern about failed efforts at the state level to accelerate educators to a higher priority for vaccinations. The effort had the support of both the superintendents’ associations and the teachers’ unions.

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