MARIETTA — Marietta City Schools will have free COVID-19 tests for those potentially exposed to the virus and expand its contact tracing through a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control.

The partnership, which started Monday, will involve CDC staff assisting schools with contact tracing when there is a confirmed COVID-19 case among students or staff, and providing free testing at a MCS facility.

Superintendent Grant Rivera listed several benefits that come from the partnership.

“One, we have extensive contact tracing and testing available in ways that no other school district has had before. And then second to that, the best practices that we’ve identified here at Marietta City Schools contribute to the national landscape, and really what we know around research and best practice,” Rivera said. “We don’t want to be in this partnership, quite candidly. I wish COVID wasn’t a reality, but it is. And given that reality, we are eager to be a participant in this because we think it will benefit our staff and our students.”

Previously, in responding to COVID-19 cases, school staff have reached out only to close contacts, defined by the CDC as those who have been within six feet of the person for 15 minutes or more within 24 hours — notifying them that they have been exposed, asking them a few questions and directing them to get tested and potentially quarantine. Now, the CDC will help the school district also contact those who may not meet the criteria but still could have been exposed, such as students in the same classroom or who ride the same bus.

CDC staff contacting parents will conduct a voluntary, 15-minute phone health assessment, which will include questions about the student’s health history, recent exposures and safety behaviors.

Rivera said families who participate will have an opportunity to have free, convenient COVID-19 testing and a better picture of who may be at risk of infection. He added that assisting with contact tracing is contributing to “the greater good.”

“This is something that I want for my family and I want it for our school district. I want to be able to, as a family, I want to be able to contribute to what are best practices to keep my kids safe and every other kid in our community safe,” he said.

Testing will be available through the CDC for any of the district’s students or staff identified as being in close contact or in proximity to a confirmed case, confidentially at a Marietta City Schools location after school hours. The location has not been determined, though Rivera said it will likely be at the district’s central office. The test is done through a shallow nasal swab compared to the traditional deep nasal swabs, and results will be available within 24-48 hours.

As part of the partnership, Marietta City Schools will be included in national research on the coronavirus in schools and best practices in mitigating its spread.

“We’ve had a very high degree of success in Marietta City Schools since we’ve opened in early September. And yet at the same exact time, we want to make sure that we figure out what about our protocols, either as a district or even within personal tendencies among a child or a family, what’s contributing to transmission. And also what is protecting against transmission?” Rivera said. “I think that’s, to me what’s so powerful about this partnership. Not only do we benefit from extensive contact tracing and testing, but we’re really contributing to the national landscape of best practices for schools and as the CDC would readily admit, that doesn’t really exist right now.”

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