COVID-19 testing protocols work effectively


Melody Tang

Chandace-Akirin Apacanis ’21 gives her nasal swab to Upper School Nurse Becca Pilgrim before class outside of the Munger Science Center in adherence with school COVID-19 protocols.

Melody Tang

Sophomores, juniors and seniors began returning to in-person classes together starting May 17, following nearly two months of coming to campus based on a daily rotating grade system. . During this time, no positive COVID-19 cases were detected and four months of athletic practices resulted in one positive COVID-19 case.

Before any students, faculty or staff members were able to return to campus, the school required a baseline individual PCR test. On campus, all students, faculty and staff undergo pooled testing, a process in which a group of up to 25 individuals is anonymously tested for COVID-19 through nasal swabbing. The samples are then tested through Concentric, a COVID-19 pool testing program, and results are not provided to those tested. In addition to pooled testing, students must complete a safety survey, check in through the iHW app and have Trace, a Bluetooth contact tracing app, open on their phones at all times.

One case within the school community was detected, but the administration acted quickly to prevent transmission

Pooled testing detected one COVID-19 case between winter and spring break from a boys athletic team. All members of the squad were individually tested and quarantined for 10 days, resulting in no transmission of the virus. The boys did not practice the day before the positive test, giving the sufficient 48-hour window of time between the player’s infection and his last contact with the team to ensure their safety.

Head of Communications and Strategic Initiatives Ari Engelberg ’89 said the protocols in place were effective for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 within the boys athletic team.

“We were fortunate in that there hadn’t been a ton of contact between this positive case and his teammates,” Engelberg said. “It also showed that things like masking and [social] distancing work [… The way] we were being and continue to be really disciplined about mask-wearing [with athletics], especially the high contact sports, even when it’s difficult to wear masks, [our diligence] about mask-wearing [allowed no] opportunity for this positive patient to spread it to anyone else.”

Members of the community feel safe returning to school and completing the school year in person

Upper School Nurse Becca Pilgrim said the extremely low positive case rate through the school’s testing system gives her confidence that the return to school has been safe.

“For our campus, [the number of negative tests] has been phenomenal,” Pilgrim said. “And they work really well if there’s a low [COVID-19] prevalence rate to begin with, which is why we do require a mandatory PCR before coming onto campus. We can guarantee that when kids, faculty and staff are coming onto campus, everyone’s negative. And from there, the pooled tests are extremely effective.”

Associate Head of School Laura Ross said this year’s senior festivities will involve heightened testing to allow for more socialization.

“[Safety is] why we’re so aggressively testing every week, and for athletes who are competing against other schools, they’re being tested even more,” Ross said. “And during the senior activities, we’re going to be testing [seniors] a lot. We want these two weeks to feel like you guys just get to be having fun. Our baseline has been, ‘if we can do the best we can to ensure that nobody on campus is positive, then we can relax a little bit once we are here.’”

Zane Danton ’22 said he feels confident and safe attending in-person school knowing his classmates have all been tested for COVID-19.

“I think testing students in groups is a very efficient practice, and it has clearly been working this year,” Danton said. “The process is very efficient, and I appreciate the fact that the school is testing every single person on campus. I feel very confident in attending in-person school knowing that all of my peers have tested negative for COVID.”