There’s no way of knowing exactly how many asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 are inside Hall schools, but the Hall County School District has a testing plan to at least come up with an estimate.
In an initiative that started last week, the district is providing voluntary testing for asymptomatic students, employees and children of employees at a different school cluster every week. All tests – which will be executed via nasal swab – are being administered by the Northeast Georgia Health System, with the school district covering the cost.
District spokesman Stan Lewis said the idea came directly from Superintendent Will Schofield.
“(Schofield) thought it would be a good idea to just get a grip or get a handle on the number of cases that we have out there of asymptomatic people,” Lewis said. “If we can get a grip on that and understand what’s going on in our community, we can probably limit the spread, and then also minimize the number of folks that we’re quarantining.”
Last week, the school district tested more than 60 asymptomatic students and employees in the East Hall cluster, and none of the tests came back positive, according to school district data. More testing was done on Thursday outside of Cherokee Bluff High School, and Lewis said results should be back within 48 hours.
The testing is open to all employees and their children, as well as middle and high school students who get parental permission and return requisite paperwork.
Bobby Norris, vice president of primary care and acute care operations for Northeast Georgia Physician’s Group, said the plan could provide Hall schools with a good estimate of how many asymptomatic carriers are in school buildings, so long as enough students and employees participate.
“It will be the most effective if we get a large number of participants,” he said. “So if we only have a small sample size, it’s not going to tell us a lot about how widespread the virus could be among staff and students. If we can get a larger amount of participants to come through, it could give us a rate of asymptomatic patients or students, so that would be something the system could use as a guide.”
Norris said NGHS chose to help with the plan because the health system wanted to support the community and the local school districts.
He said that while this testing is just a small piece of the bigger picture of fighting the spread of COVID-19, any extra data is always helpful.
“If I were a parent, it would make me see that the school is taking this seriously and that they understand the more information they have the better for their staff and their students,” Norris said.
Results of the weekly testing will be posted in the school district’s COVID-19 absences report, which is updated on a daily basis. The Gainesville City School District is also going to be issuing reports on COVID-19 cases in its schools.
Lewis said the asymptomatic testing program, along with the other data the Hall County School District is providing daily, is all part of a plan to make students, parents and teachers as confident as possible that in-person instruction in Hall County schools remains safe.
“We want to be as transparent and as proactive as possible,” he said. “And in order to do that, we feel like getting this data, getting folks on board, getting them to see what we’re trying to accomplish through the testing, I think that gives them a level of confidence that we’re willing to do what’s necessary to hold school in a safe way.”