Random COVID-19 screening yields all negative results

Mia Calzolaio, Staff Writer

The school’s random COVID-19 screening testing produced all negative results, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly wrote in an email to parents on Sunday.


The screening was the first round of the bi-weekly testing program. This program entails 125 to 175 randomly selected students and faculty reporting to their division’s respective testing locations — the Steven M. Friedman ’72 Gymnasium for the Upper Division (UD) and Middle Division (MD), the Faculty Workroom for the Lower Division (LD), and the tented rear playground for the Nursery Division (ND) — on Fridays for saliva-based PCR spit tests, Kelly wrote in a separate email to students last Thursday. 


The tests were administered under the supervision of employees from Vault Health, Inc, the same company the school used to test all employees at the start of the school year, Kelly added. All students received their results within 24 hours. 


Dalia Pustilnik (11) is glad that the school is conducting COVID-19 tests during the year, especially since students could have been exposed to the virus between the time they submitted their initial test and the beginning of the school year. “I think it is a really good idea to have random testing and cover all our bases,” she said.


The testing program is modeled off of other schools’ COVID-19 protocols, including several liberal arts colleges with which the school tends to have much in common, Kelly wrote. 


Kelly told students their parents would receive an email if they were chosen for testing and instructed chosen students to bring in a signed consent form and electronic device to register their test kit. He also advised that students allow 15 to 20 minutes to complete the test and not to eat or drink anything 30 minutes prior to testing. 


Kelly said the screening presents new challenges. “Testing our younger students requires a higher level of care and supervision, and getting our MD and UD students to complete the testing within the context of an already busy day is another concern.”


Upon entering the gym for her COVID-19 test, Amelia Resnick (10) received her testing kit and created an account online in order to scan the barcode on the bottle. She then spent around 10 minutes spitting into a test tube. All of the instructions were online, and there were volunteers around in case anyone needed help, she said. 


Pustilnik said once she had filled her container, she was instructed to add a chemical to her saliva in the bottle, shake it, and place it into a box for the employees. The process took around 15 minutes and was simple, she said. 


After receiving word that he was going to be tested, Mehraz Karim (12) was initially upset, because he did not want to take the time out of his day and thought that it would be a nose swab test. However, his feelings changed after finding out it was a spit test and talking to his friends — those who were selected made him feel less singled out and those who were not assured him that nothing bad could come of it. “I was actually pretty happy because it showed that the school was committed to stopping the spread,” he said. 


Resnick was happy she was chosen because she wanted to ensure she did not have the coronavirus and said the testing was a positive reminder of the school’s precautions. 


The tests provided reassurance, Karim said. He knows that people with COVID-19 can be asymptomatic, and while temperature checks are effective, they are not a surefire way to stop the spread. He is glad that the school is testing students, just to ensure that no one is sick, he said. 


“Being tested has definitely made me feel more comfortable at school, not only because I know that I am negative, but also that Horace Mann has done a good job with its reopening plan,” Michael Shaari (11) said.


While the screening testing program has many advantages, there are inevitably some challenges, such as false negatives or positives. Rachel Baez (10) was concerned that her test would be a false negative. 


According to an article published by Harvard Medical School in August, the reported rate of false negatives is as low as 2% and as high as 37%, with nasal swabs typically providing more accurate results.


However, Kelly has faith in the testing system. “While there is always a concern about false positives or negatives and even null responses, we are testing enough individuals to feel confident that the data set will serve us well,” he said.