February 12, 2021 Letter from Superintendent Malkas

Dear Students, Families, and Staff Members,

The number of positive cases statewide and locally continues to decrease this past week. Each Thursday evening the Department of Public Health releases the city/town and Berkshire County data updates for the previous 14 day period. The most recent data has shown that there is a decrease in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city, county, and state.

The benchmarks that we use to determine if there is community spread that warrants moving to remote learning include:

  • 3% positivity rate for the City of North Adams: Current rate is 1.21%.
  • 3% average positivity rate for 15 collective towns and cities that represent locations where staff or students who enter North Adams Public Schools reside: Current rate is 3.196%.

The winter break begins with President’s Day on Monday, February 15, 2021 and continues through to Friday, February 19, 2021. There is no school and no remote classes for students on these days.

At North Adams Public Schools, we miss seeing our students and staff in person. We want to bring everyone back to school safely. We are starting a voluntary free weekly COVID-19 testing program to help keep our staff, students and community safe and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Regular COVID-19 testing of students and staff will help us lower the risk of the disease in our school by finding and isolating individuals who have COVID-19 quickly, even before or if they never show symptoms. We have confidence in our safety protocols including masking, distancing, and disinfection protocols. The weekly COVID-19 testing program is just another way we are striving to keep our school environment safe for everyone.

We hope that you will have your child participate by completing and signing a consent form.  The more individuals who participate, the safer our school will be!

What is the COVID-19 testing program?

  • Participating individuals will be tested for COVID-19 once a week.
  • The COVID-19 test is quick, easy and it does not hurt. It is a nasal test you can administer yourself that gently swabs the lower inner nostril. 
  • The test is free. You do not need to pay for the test or have insurance to get the test.
  • The program starts officially on 2/23.
  • The test is performed at each school.
  • We are in the process of developing a smooth scheduling system so that testing does not interrupt teaching and learning.
  • The program is optional, but we hope you will participate to help us keep our schools as safe as possible.

 How can I participate in the program?

To participate in the testing program, you need to sign a consent form. You only need to sign once to consent for testing each week.  The consent form can be found on the new COVID Pool Testing Program webpage on the district webpage located here.

This form gives consent to share your information if needed. No personal health information is provided to anyone outside of the district in the first round of pooled testing. Our school nurses or deans will call any individuals in a positive pool to explain next steps and discuss follow-up testing options. Test results will only be shared with the Department of Public Health if you test positive on an individual follow-up test.

Your consent also gives us permission to share information with the technology platform we use to track testing. Your information will only be shared with the Department of Public Health and other departments if you test positive on an individual test. 

There are 2 ways to sign up:

  • Sign up electronically by downloading the consent form, completing it for your child with an electronic signature or scanned signature, and emailing it to School Nurse Leader Lauren Gage at lgage@napsk12.org.
  • Sign up by printing / signing the attached form and have your child bring it with them to their school. 

* Please provide an individual consent form for each of your children who attend North Adams Public Schools.

The program is voluntary. Your child is not required to participate in the program. If you do not consent to for your child to participate, your child can still come to school. However, we strongly encourage you to have your child participate to help us reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

How does it work?

The type of testing we are using is called “Pooled Testing.”  Pooled testing makes it easier and faster to find individuals who might have COVID-19.  Pooled testing also helps ensure a smooth system that does not interrupt teaching and learning; we can test entire classes at once in a short period of time to minimize interruptions to classroom time.  More details will be provided on our website or future staff communications.

 Here is how it works:

  • Participating individuals are tested individually once a week with a nasal swab test.
  • Then, swabs will be mixed together into a group of swabs called a “pool.” The pool is sent to a lab where the whole pool is tested for COVID-19 at one time. 
  • If the pool test comes back negative, all students and staff in the pool are COVID-negative. In this case, you will not hear from us. 
  • If the pool test comes back positive, it means that at least one person in the pool is COVID-positive. In this case, all members of that pool will come back the next day for an individual follow-up test.
  • Individual follow-up tests produce results in 15 mins. If the individual follow-up test comes back negative, the person may return to school as normal. If the individual follow-up test comes back positive, we will work with the person to quarantine and get connected to care. We will also reach out to start the contact tracing process.

 For more information about our COVID Pool Testing Program please see previous communications on the district website and the DESE website at https://www.doe.mass.edu/covid19/pooled-testing/.

 Have Questions?  Contact Lauren Gage, District Testing Coordinator and School Nurse Leader at lgage@napsk12.org.

 Thank you and we hope to see you soon!

Dr. Barbara Malkas