The Carlsbad Municipal School District is bracing for the new test-to-stay policy, which helps unvaccinated students avoid quarantines.
The New Mexico Department of Public Education released new guidelines on November 2 stating that unvaccinated students who come in close contact with someone with COVID-19 can return to school if they test negative for the virus. Until now, these students had to quarantine themselves for at least 10 days.
Carlsbad Municipal Schools Superintendent Dr Gerry Washburn said the new policy poses a challenge for some schools. He said the district will now need to keep a record of those tests and of the students vaccinated.
The new policy requires that exposed students be tested three times, on days one, three and five following possible exposure, according to the Department of Public Education (PED). If a parent refuses to allow an exposed child to test for the virus, they will still have to quarantine themselves for 10 days.
Even with these challenges, Washburn said the policy is an improvement that will allow more students to stay in school.
Carlsbad Municipal Schools (CMS) will provide testing but can also be taken at a pharmacy or doctor’s office that reports the results to the New Mexico Department of Health.
Washburn said the district is in the process of switching to a new testing system that is less invasive and can offer same-day results.
“It’s not the deep swab that we associated with testing when we were in the beginning, it’s a shallow nasal swab,” Washburn said. “We knew we had a lot of kids and staff who were really struggling to find a place to get tested, so we positioned ourselves well.”
Washburn said the new policy only applies to students who have been exposed to COVID-19 at school. If a student comes into contact with someone who tests positive for the virus at home, they will still need to self-quarantine.
The testing program is supported by a $ 64 million federal grant funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, according to the PED’s announcement on the policy.
Districts that enroll in the testing program will receive a base grant of $ 70,000 plus $ 30 per student to cover testing costs.
CMS has already planned to allocate $ 384,000 from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Assistance Fund (ESSER) to coordinate surveillance testing and hire health and safety officers.
Washburn reminded parents that exposed children who are vaccinated will not have to undergo testing or quarantine until they have symptoms. Now that vaccines are available for children aged 5 to 11, he said he encourages parents to vaccinate their children.
School nurses will be responsible for keeping records of COVID-19 immunizations similar to those of required vaccinations, Washburn said.
Number of CMS COVID-19 cases
The cases cover a two-week period from October 16 to 29. As of October 29, 389 students have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the school year.
- Carlsbad High School: 3 quick answers, 8 cases
- Alta Vista Carlsbad Intermediate School: 0 quick responses, 1 case
- PR Leyva Carlsbad Intermedia School: 3 quick answers, 3 cases
- Cottonwood Elementary School: 0 quick responses, 1 case
- Desert Willow Elementary School: 0 quick responses, 1 case
- Early childhood education center: 2 quick responses, 4 cases
- Carlsbad Early College High School: 0 responses, 0 cases
- Hillcrest Preschool: 0 quick responses, 2 cases
- Monterrey Primary School: 0 quick responses, 2 cases
- Ocotillo Primary School: 0 quick responses, 3 cases
- Sunset Elementary School: 0 quick answers, 1 case
A rapid response is triggered after at least one or more people in the school have tested positive for COVID-19 within 24 hours. The school is required to identify and test anyone with whom it has come into contact.
Claudia Silva is a reporter for the UNM Local Reporting Fellowship. She can be reached at [email protected], by phone at 575-628-5506 or on Twitter @thewatchpup.