Beginning Monday, Marietta City Schools will use a new protocol for students identified as close contacts with COVID-19 that district officials hope will cut down on lost instruction time created by quarantines.
Presently, the district requires students and staff who are identified as close contacts to quarantine at home for at least seven days. Under the new "test and stay" protocol, those close contacts would be able to continue going to school, as long as they test negative for COVID-19 through a daily district-administered test for the days they would have been in quarantine.
"Regardless of the decrease in student and staff quarantines, I continue to be concerned about the impact of lost instructional time that occurs as a result of each quarantine," Marietta Schools Superintendent Grant Rivera said in an email to the district community on Tuesday. "To that end, I have been collaborating with health and medical experts from around the country to better understand how we can leverage science to find the right balance between health protocols, school safety, and student learning."
The district has partnered with MAKO Medical, a COVID test provider recommended by the Georgia Department of Public Health, to provide daily tests with results available in 15-30 minutes, Rivera said.
The rapid tests will be administered by "licensed medical professionals" at a designated Marietta Schools site each weekday morning between 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Advance registration for the tests are required, but Rivera said students and staff identified as a school-based close contact will be sent registration information for the daily test.
The new testing program is only available to eligible MCS students and staff, while the normal testing site at the Lemon Street location is still open for all other MCS students, staff, and families seeking a COVID test, district officials say.
Additional requirements for the “test and stay” protocol include:
- Only school-based close contacts are eligible for "test and stay." Students and staff identified as close contacts of a COVID-positive person outside schools are not eligible for "test and stay."
- The eligible student or staff member will be required to have an MCS-administered rapid test on each school day of their 7-day quarantine. Upon receipt of a negative test result, the school will be immediately notified the student/staff member can attend school for that specific day.
- No student may ride the bus or enter the school building until the negative test is received for that specific day of quarantine. Likewise, no staff member will be allowed to enter the building until cleared to do such.
- Each day’s negative test result will allow the student to attend school and participate in MCS athletics and afterschool activities on that specific day.
- Each eligible student and staff member will receive details about the “test and stay” option once they are identified as a close contact. If they choose to participate, the close contact will be expected to register and select a preferred 30-minute window (between 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.) to take the test the next morning.
- The close contact will remain in their car while getting the rapid antigen test in a drive-thru format.
- At-home rapid antigen tests will not qualify for "test and stay." The rapid antigen test must be administered through the MCS-MAKO Medical partnership.
Rivera said the new protocol is based on a model developed by the state of Massachusetts and endorsed by the state's department of public health and department of elementary and secondary education.
"I shared the Massachusetts’s model with experts from the Georgia Department of Health and Cobb & Douglas Public Health," Rivera said. "While this approach is not officially endorsed in Georgia or Cobb County, it holds incredible promise to reduce the impact of lost instructional time for students and staff who are identified as school-based close contacts."
Rivera also shared COVID-19 data following Marietta Schools' mask mandate implemented Aug. 23.
For the week of Aug. 14 to Aug 20, the district reported 983 student and seven staff quarantines. Those numbers fell to 308 and seven, respectively for the week of Aug. 21 to Aug. 27. For the week of Aug. 28 to Sept. 3, the quarantine numbers were 233 and 11, respectively.
"I understand and respect the dissenting opinions that exist in our community regarding the temporary mask mandate," Rivera said. "I also feel compelled to share the trending data we are seeing regarding positive cases and quarantines for students and staff. We continue to follow the recommendations of health and medical experts who believe that the temporary mask mandate is appropriate given the MCS school-based and community transmission."