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Grand Island students to begin pilot 'test-to-stay,' while Buffalo schools scramble for new COVID test provider

Photo from Grand Island Central Schools website

Schools and COVID remain at the center of the pandemic, trying to keep kids in the classroom routinely. One suburban district is launching a pilot program that gives unvaccinated students a chance to stay in class if they are a close contact of someone who tests positive.

All through the long battle with the coronavirus, testing has been a key issue. There were two-examples of that yesterday; Buffalo schools discovering the company which was doing the district testing shut down abruptly, leaving officials scrambling for a replacement and Grand Island schools going into a test-to-stay program in cooperation with the Erie County Health Department.

The Grand Island Central Schools experiment revolves around “test-to-stay.” It proposes an alternative to sending home those who aren't fully vaccinated who are exposed to someone who is COVID positive. Using test-to-stay means that student will be tested every day, to see if that student is positive.

Test-to-stay uses rapid tests rather than the slower and more elaborate P-C-R tests used in Buffalo. If an unvaccinated student in Grand Island is considered a close contact of someone who is diagnosed, that student will be tested daily. That means the student won't be sent home and quarantined for ten days. The student won't lose days in the classroom.

The Erie County Health Department has agreed to this pilot test to see if it can work. Health Commissioner Doctor Gale Burstein has expressed concern, however, that by the time a student tests positive, that student may already be shedding the virus.

For Buffalo Public Schools, testing is the problem because the firm which has been doing tens of thousands of tests a month for the district has reportedly shut down.

In a statement, Buffalo Superintendent Kriner Cash said there have been e-mails saying Affinity Empowering had shut down but he doesn't know if that's true because there has been no notice. For Buffalo schools, it's a big deal because Affinity has been doing thousands of tests every month and the district has a lot of COVID, 500 cases so far this month.

In his statement, Cash says the district's Medical Advisory Team is working to find a new provider while the district pushes to get more five-year-olds through 18-year-olds vaccinated. The superintendent says getting the kids vaccinated eases the push for testing.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.