Cabrillo Unified School District staff is ramping up coronavirus testing and detection in hopes of being able to reopen schools more widely in the weeks ahead.
District nurse Susan Vana told those on a Zoom board meeting, Thursday, that she had begun to administer a pilot testing program for staff in the last week. By then, 53 staff members had been given self-administered saliva tests in a program that uses Curative Labs as a contracted testing company.
When employees sign up for the tests, they are sent an email with a link to a video showing how it works. Subjects essentially swab regions of their mouth for 20 seconds in a procedure monitored by a trained observer. The tests are then sent to Curative for a result. Published reports say the tests can cost as much as $150 each, however they are covered by insurance, and district officials don’t expect taxpayers or employees to incur any cost.
The plan is to test staff monthly at each school site, though it’s possible school officials may opt to test more often.
In addition, Vana said she has performed contact tracing on 82 members of the Cabrillo community so far. Six people within the district have tested positive for the virus and the rest have been in close contact for more than 15 minutes with someone who had the virus.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, public health experts have said contact tracing is a crucial component of limiting the spread of novel coronavirus. But that is easier said than done. Some people may not remember everyone they have had contact with or deliberately leave out some contacts. Those contacted may ignore phone calls from tracers or not take advice to quarantine. And technological aids like phone apps that can tell users if they come in contact with a known positive case are not universally accepted.
But Vana said her experience has been different. Generally, people have few contacts between the time they are tested and the positive result or time of close contact, so there aren’t many calls associated with each event, she said.
“I know that some people feel like they are not getting straight answers, but it’s been pretty straight forward,” she said.
The work could become more onerous whenever students return more broadly to the classroom. There are about 3,000 students and 350 staff
members — most of whom have been diligent about observing public health protocols.
“Our numbers for contact tracing have been pretty low with remote learning, but we had quite an increase after Thanksgiving,” she said. Vana is concerned that there could be another spike after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
Meanwhile, school officials are preparing their elementary school classrooms for an inevitable slow return of students. A coordinated mass return would require the county to return to the “orange tier” of community spread and it could not occur until at least Jan. 19, 2021. School officials note that it will likely be weeks later before the county case rate allows a return to school.
To get ready, Cabrillo Chief Business Officer Jose Contraras said all necessary personal protective equipment has been purchased. The district has also purchased air scrubbers — purification devices designed to remove aerosols containing viruses across 5,000 square feet — for each classroom and other shared spaces. There will be hand-washing stations in place and “welcoming centers” with sanitizers and other hygiene aids.
Classrooms are being reconfigured to allow for sufficient distance between students. That means many desks and other furnishings have had to be stored for the time being.
Vana says she is comfortable with protections in place now.
“We’ve had learning pods since the first of October, and two classrooms started at that time, and we’ve had no incidences,” she said. “It’s been great.”