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COVID Baseline & Assurance Testing in Schools
All students must participate in Baseline Testing in order to attend in-person learning.
In accordance with Somerville Board of Health requirements as adopted by the Somerville School Committee, all students, faculty, staff, other employees, and any other individuals providing direct, in-person services in Somerville Public School buildings will undergo a baseline COVID-19 test prior to participating in any in-person learning or programming, and thereafter participate in a regular assurance testing protocol. Students and staff will be tested on a regular schedule during the school day, from 1-2 times per week depending on how many days of in-person program they participate. As a reminder, parents will have to submit a consent form prior to student testing.
This page is intended as a resource for families and staff to learn about the assurance testing protocol, how results will be communicated, and the testing schedule. For questions not answered in this section, or for anything to do with the assurance testing program, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Schedule of Testing
The current testing schedule for staff and students involved in in-person learning and programming is as follows.
All students and staff must participate in Baseline Testing in order to attend in-person learning. Persons requiring a baseline test should go to their home school during testing hours and request an “individual test.” Once a negative result is confirmed, that person is cleared to return. Outside tests may be accepted in place of an SPS baseline test under extenuating circumstances, so long as the test is: 1) a PCR COVID-19 test; and 2) collected within 36 hours of return to school. Please contact Wil Durbin email@example.com before seeking an outside test.
How the testing works
Assurance testing identifies and isolates individuals who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carriers of the virus. It involves testing an entire population for the virus on a regular basis. Its goal is to provide assurance to staff, students, and families, facilitate safe in-person learning, and prevent virus spread in the schools and the wider community.
The Somerville Public Schools (SPS) is partnering with Tufts University, the Broad Institute, and Cataldo Ambulance to deliver the assurance testing program. Students and staff will be tested using a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. PCR tests are the most sensitive and accurate type of test, detecting the virus’ genetic material when people are infectious but may not yet be showing symptoms.
PCR tests will be administered on an individual basis or a pooled basis. Pool testing detects the virus as accurately as individual testing while reducing the number of tests that need to be processed and, as a result, the overall cost of testing. If one person within a pool tests positive, the entire pool is flagged as positive and subsequent testing on an individual basis is needed to determine which individual(s) within the pool tested positive. To view Mass DPH FAQ on Pool Testing, click on the link.
What will happen on testing day?
On days when a baseline or regular assurance test has been scheduled, students and staff will arrive at the testing location at their allotted time (for students returning to in-person learning, this will be during the school day). To maintain physical distancing protocol and allow for quick processing of samples, it is important to maintain your scheduled time.
Testing will occur in one of Somerville’s schools, usually in a large open space like a gym, and most students/staff will be able to test in their home building. Upon entering the testing area, participants will register with staff and receive their testing materials. The test involves a gentle swab of the lower part of both nostrils for about 15 seconds. Per DESE guidance, students in Grades 2 and older may be able to self-administer their tests, but medical staff will be present to monitor and assist in swabbing as needed. Samples will be collected by staff and either sealed individually, or placed into a pooled sample for transport to the testing facility.
Once samples are received by the laboratory, it usually takes between 18-24 hours for the tests to be processed. Individuals who test positive will be contacted by a representative of the Somerville Health and Human Services Department (HHS). Individuals who test negative will not be contacted.
Post-test instruction & results communication
Once all test samples have been processed, the results will be sent to Somerville Health and Human Services (HHS). The average time for test processing is 10-12 hours, and positive results are communicated as soon as possible.
NOTE: This website is for the in-school SPS assurance testing program. If you are being tested because you have signs or symptoms that could be consistent with COVID-19, you should isolate at home while waiting for your test results. If the result is negative, you may resume normal activities as outlined by district guidance. Individuals who have had a known exposure should follow specific guidance for close contacts. Ask your nurse if you have any questions.
If you are being tested because of exposure to a person with COVID-19, you must quarantine at home and follow current CDC recommendations for testing and length of quarantine.
POSITIVE INDIVIDUAL TEST RESULT
In the event that a COVID-19 positive result is returned, a member of HHS will notify the individual who tested positive by phone of their test result. If you are positive for COVID-19, you must remain in self-isolation, away from other people (including members of the same household if possible) for at least 10 days following the beginning of your symptoms or positive test result AND until you have been fever-free for 24 hours (without fever-reducing medication) and your symptoms have improved.
Individuals who have tested positive and completed their isolation period should not participate in assurance testing for 90 days. The test may have detectable viral genetic material that would return a positive pool result, despite the fact that they are no longer infectious.
NEGATIVE INDIVIDUAL TEST RESULT
Negative results will NOT be communicated.
POSITIVE POOL TEST RESULT
At the time test samples are collected, they will be pooled together with up to 10 total samples in the same test tube. This one tube will then be tested for the presence of COVID-19. A positive test indicates that one or more persons who submitted a sample into that pooled tube has COVID-19. All individuals who submitted a sample to the positive pool will be contacted by a member of the SPS COVID-19 Testing Team and referred for follow-up testing (also known as reflex testing) to determine who among the group is negative for COVID-19, and who is positive. Unless otherwise noted, reflex testing will take place in the individual’s home school. Individual results will be shared with each member of the pool.
If you are positive for COVID-19, you must remain in self-isolation, away from other people (including members of the same household if possible) for at least 10 days following the beginning of your symptoms or positive test result AND until you have been fever-free for 24 hours (without fever-reducing medication) and your symptoms have improved.
If you are in a positive pool but later test negative during follow-up testing, you may need to follow close-contact protocol. A contact tracer will reach out and determine whether you need to begin quarantine. As classrooms will be pooled together, a “Pool Positive” result will likely result in that classroom being moved to remote learning. Please follow all guidance from your school nurse or HHS contact tracer.
NEGATIVE POOL TEST RESULT
Negative pool test results will NOT be communicated. Individual test results may not be retrieved with this method of testing.
TEST NOT PERFORMED (TNP) RESULT
On rare occasions, test samples sent to the laboratory may produce a “Test Not Performed” result. When this occurs, it may be because the test sample was damaged during transportation, was contaminated, had debris that interfered with processing, or did not contain enough genetic material to return a result. In such cases, a member of the SPS COVID-19 Testing Team will notify parents or staff of a TNP result and help to arrange a follow-up COVID-19 test.
How will positive cases in the classroom/school be communicated?
To safeguard the health and well-being of our school community, SPS will notify families and staff regarding any positive results in their school, while maintaining confidentiality.
When a member of our school community has tested positive for COVID-19, the Somerville HHS staff will follow up with anyone who has been identified as a close contact with the individual who tested positive for COVID-19. If you have not been contacted by a health professional, then there is no need for further inquiry.
When possible, classroom test samples will be pooled together and tested as a single batch, resulting in a “Pool Positive” or “Pool Negative” test result. If you or your student are part of a pool that tests positive, you will be contacted by a member of HHS and directed to quarantine/isolate, and provided instructions for a follow-up test (or reflex test) to determine the positive individual(s) in the pool.
Close contacts who were exposed to a COVID-19 positive individual in the classroom or on the bus while both individuals were masked do not have to quarantine unless they were within 3 feet of distance of the COVID-19 positive individual for a total of 15 minutes during a 24-hour period. This does not apply if someone was identified as a close contact outside of the classroom or bus (e.g., in sports, extracurriculars, lunch, etc.) or if masks are not worn by both persons at the time of the exposure. All other close contacts must follow the standard protocol for when a close contact may return to school. The infectious period begins two days before symptom onset (or two days prior to the date of the positive test if the individual has no symptoms) and includes up until the time the student/staff was isolated because they tested positive.
We ask that everyone please respect the privacy of those affected and those who need to quarantine. We ask that you exercise the right to privacy and decrease the stigma by refraining from discussing individual circumstances through conversations or social media.
Glossary of Key Terms
Anterior nasal swab: Unlike the nasopharyngeal swab, or “brain tickle” test that was used more frequently during the early days of the pandemic, an anterior nasal swab is a gentle swab of the lower part of the nostril with a cotton swab, about 0.5 inch within the nasal opening (or where a finger can reach), which is used to collect a sample to be tested for COVID-19.
Assurance testing: Also called “universal testing” or “screening testing,” it is a process in which the entire school population will be tested for COVID-19 on a regular basis. Rather than testing only people who show signs of an infection, assurance testing monitors a seemingly healthy population to identify any individuals who may be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic and who should be isolated.
Asymptomatic: Lack of symptoms. It is possible to contract the coronavirus and make antibodies to it even if you stay asymptomatic. It is also possible to spread the virus to others if you're carrying it but have no symptoms.
Baseline test: Part of the assurance testing program, a baseline test is the first test provided to each new group of students and staff returning for in-person learning. The goals of baseline testing are to ensure that everyone returning is COVID-19 negative, and to capture all the registration information necessary prior to ongoing assurance testing.
Close contact: Someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period* starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.
Incubation period: Period of time between exposure to an infection and onset of symptoms.
Isolation: The separation of a person or group of people known or reasonably believed to be infected with a communicable disease and potentially infectious from those who are not infected to prevent spread of the communicable disease.
PCR test: Also called a molecular test, this COVID-19 test detects genetic material of the virus using a lab technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR tests are very accurate when properly performed by a healthcare professional, and are able to detect the presence of COVID-19 early in the incubation period.
Pool testing: Pooling—sometimes referred to as pool testing or pooled testing—means combining samples from several people and conducting one laboratory test on the combined pool of samples to detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Somerville is able to combine up to 10 individual samples in the same pool to be tested together.
Pre-symptomatic: If you’re pre-symptomatic, you have contracted the virus and may soon feel symptoms, but at the moment, you don't have any. It may be possible to spread COVID-19 to others during this phase.
Quarantine: The separation of a person or group of people reasonably believed to have been exposed to a communicable disease but not yet symptomatic from others who have not been so exposed to prevent the possible spread of the communicable disease.
Reflex testing: When a pooled test is positive, it indicates that one or more of the 10 combined samples processed by the lab contained genetic material for COVID-19, but the test is unable to determine who provided the positive sample. A follow-up test, or reflex test, will be used to determine who among the group are negative for COVID-19, and who is positive.
Screening testing: Screening tests for SARS-CoV-2 are intended to identify occurrence at the individual level even if there is no reason to suspect infection—e.g., there is no known exposure. This includes, but is not limited to, screening of non-symptomatic individuals without known exposure with the intent of making decisions based on the test results. Screening tests are intended to identify infected individuals without, or prior to development of, symptoms who may be contagious so that measures can be taken to prevent further transmission.
Test Not Processed (TNP): On rare occasions, test samples sent to the laboratory may produce a “Test Not Performed” result. When this occurs, it may be because the test sample was damaged during transportation, was contaminated, had debris that interfered with processing, or did not contain enough genetic material to return a result. In such cases, individuals will be asked to test again.
Frequently asked questions
What happens if I already tested positive for COVID-19? Should I get tested?
Individuals who have tested positive and completed their isolation period should not participate in assurance testing for 90 days. They may have detectable viral genetic material that would return a positive pool result, despite the fact that they are no longer infectious.
Is the COVID-19 screening test painful?
No. Unlike previous testing protocols that required a nasopharyngeal swab (the “brain tickle” test), current testing methods only require that the lower part of the nostril be swabbed in a circular motion for 15 seconds. While some participants may feel some discomfort, the majority report only a slight tickling.
When will students be tested?
Students will receive a baseline test prior to returning to any in-person activities, and then on a regular basis thereafter (assurance testing). As students return to in-person learning, the tests will be performed at school during school hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A student’s specific testing time may fluctuate during the semester as new students are brought into the school or as necessary.
How will SPS conduct contact tracing?
The school nurses will work with the City of Somerville contact tracing program to ensure that appropriate contact tracing is followed. Positive cases and close contacts will be reported to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Massachusetts Virtual Epidemiologic Network (MAVEN) platform, as required by law. Individuals who are close contacts of a positive individual must quarantine according to current Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidelines. Close contacts are considered to be individuals who spent more than 15 minutes within six feet of the positive individual in a 24 hour period over the last 48 hours. HHS contact tracing staff will inform close contacts that they need to quarantine.
What is pooled testing?
Pooling—sometimes referred to as pool testing or pooled testing—means combining samples from several people and conducting one laboratory test on the combined pool of samples to detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. To view Mass DPH FAQ on Pool Testing, click on the link.
Why is pooling used?
Pooling allows laboratories to test more samples with fewer testing materials at a fraction of the cost. To view Mass DPH FAQ on Pool Testing, click on the link.
What happens if the pooled test result is negative?
If a pooled test result is negative, then all the samples can be presumed negative with the single test. In other words, all of the people who provided samples can be assumed to test negative for SARS-CoV-2 infection.To view Mass DPH FAQ on Pool Testing, click on the link.
What happens if the pooled test result is positive?
If the pooled test result is positive, each person who provided a sample will be re-tested to determine which person(s) testing are positive.
Is testing mandatory? Can I/my child opt out of weekly COVID-19 screening testing?
The Somerville Board of Health passed an order on November 2, 2020 requiring all K-12 educational institutions in Somerville, including Somerville Public Schools, to submit to the Board of Health a COVID-19 transmission prevention plan that requires ongoing testing of all students, teachers, employees, and any other individuals providing services in the school building(s) and provides a detailed testing protocol to identify and swiftly isolate asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic, and symptomatic students who are COVID-19 positive. The Board of Health order allows for exemptions to COVID-19 testing in K-12 institutions only for those individuals who have a health contraindication documented by a physician.
A child or staff member shall be exempted from the requirement for mandatory COVID-19 testing if a nurse practitioner, physician, physician assistant, or other health care professional provides a written document stating why it is not possible for the student to participate due to medical condition(s), disability, sensory concerns, tactile sensitivity, or other health or safety factors for the student or staff member to participate in COVID-19 testing. Such certification shall be submitted to the physician in charge of the school health program. If the physician in charge of the school health program does not agree with the opinion of the child's physician, the matter shall be referred to the Somerville Board of Health, whose decision will be final.
Where will testing take place?
Regular screening tests will be conducted in a student’s school, usually in a large and well ventilated location (such as a gym or cafeteria) to comply with best health practices. Special testing accommodations are being evaluated for high-needs students, or those with medical condition(s), disability, sensory concerns, tactile sensitivity, or other health or safety factors. Students being onboarded may receive baseline tests at a school where testing is already ongoing.
If my student is absent/if I am absent from school during my testing time, what then?
Tests will be administered at the schools on Tuesday and Thursdays, and individuals can schedule a follow up testing appointment during one of the alternating test days. Individuals can also be tested at one of the community testing locations, and must communicate their results with the School. Students or staff who are not able to participate in testing during their regularly scheduled time will not be permitted to return to the school building until they receive a negative test at an alternative testing event.
What if I need to access my negative test result?
Negative results will NOT be communicated to participants.
Where will baseline testing occur?
Please monitor communications from your school closely for any changes to the baseline testing location. While regular weekly screening tests will take place in a student’s home school, baseline testing may be incorporated into an existing testing location, which may not be where your student attends class.
Should students or staff stay home if someone in their home has symptoms related to COVID-19, but hasn’t been tested yet?
Only individuals who are symptomatic themselves or close contacts of those who are confirmed to have COVID need to self-isolate (quarantine). As outlined in DPH guidance, all individuals who are symptomatic should be tested and self-isolate until they receive their test results. This means that if an individual in the student/staff member’s household is self-isolating because they are symptomatic, but not confirmed to have COVID, the student/staff member should have limited to no contact with the symptomatic individual to the extent feasible. As a result, the student/staff member should continue to attend school if they are not symptomatic.
Will the testing provide info on the new variant of COVID?
No. The testing protocol will detect a positive case, but not whether the positive case is from a new variant of the virus. That requires further analysis (genome sequencing).
Do I need insurance coverage/Will my insurance be billed for the test?
No. The Somerville Public Schools Assurance Testing Program is made possible through a cost-sharing partnership between the City of Somerville, Tufts University, and the Broad Institute. Baseline tests, ongoing assurance tests, and any follow-up tests required following a positive pool test will be provided free of charge through the Somerville schools.
Note: Although the State of Massachusetts supports broad testing and has launched a new Stop the Spread campaign, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), as well as some private insurers are no longer covering COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic persons with no known exposure to an infected individual. SPS employees and other individuals from our community who are asymptomatic and have not been exposed to COVID-19 may still choose to be tested at outside testing sites, but are encouraged to contact their insurance carrier to confirm coverage.
There is so much talk about not going to school if you have symptoms but what about the fact that many people with COVID don't get symptoms?
One of the primary advantages in performing assurance testing is that the PCR test used can detect the virus in individuals who are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic. That is why the City has recommended a district-wide assurance testing protocol.