WILMINGTON — The School Committee invited Wilmington Nursing Director Doreen Crowe and School Physician Dr. Mark Curdo to talk about two items under new business at their meeting last Wednesday night: COVID-19 positive athletes returning to sports and pooled testing.
The first item covered guidance created by the American Academy of Pediatrics for athletes who test positive for COVID-19. Curdo explained that these guidelines were made because of the theoretical risk of students developing heart-related complications from COVID-19 and the necessity of being careful as they return to sports.
This guidance details that a student is required to be cleared by a physician and to participate in a gradual return to play over seven days before they can return to their team. It is similar to the way that student athletes return to sports play after a concussion.
Curdo said that a student would start with light activity for the first few days before gradually getting to normal drills and eventually returning to the team. Crowe added that the athletic trainer will be there to follow each COVID-19 positive student through their gradual return.
Crowe shared that she discussed implementing this guideline after February vacation with Wilmington Athletic Director Mia Muzzio, but she didn’t have a specific implementation date. Curdo added that the guideline doesn’t apply to previous positives but only new positive student athletes going forward.
Moving onto the pooled testing program, Crowe described it as a six-week program that provides test kits and software at no cost, and only after six weeks would it cost the school for the tests. The program also requires written consent for participants, training for staff, and onsite testing once a week.
The purpose of the program is to test asymptomatic students and staff when they’re present in person at school in “pools” or groups. A pool that tests positive would have to quarantine and seek follow-up PCR tests, as it doesn’t identify which people in the pool are the positives but only whether there are positives. Negative pools would remain in school.
Crowe identified Watertown as a similarly sized school district that used the program. She said that it cost them about $22,000 per week over 17 weeks. These tests identified 18 positive cases. She also gave the current town COVID-19 numbers, which was around 130, with five of those cases in school and a 4.9 percent positivity rate.
From the results of a survey sent out to Wilmington parents and guardians, she reported that out of 812, only 54 percent responded that they would participate and 45 percent said they would not. Among staff, the response was 78 percent willing and 22 percent unwilling. Some concerns mentioned alongside their willingness to participate were adding anxiety and stress, time, reliability, and limited staff resources. Perceived benefits included peace of mind, keeping schools open, and possibly having fulltime in-person learning.
Their overall considerations were the cost, lack of parent consent, logistics, contact tracing, and the fact that the community and school positives are currently low.
“Our recommendation is that WPS not participate in the DESE pooled testing program,” Crowe said.
Curdo shared that the CDC recommends this testing only for communities with moderate to high amounts of COVID-19 and that studies have shown that schools have had minimal to no spread. Supt. Glenn Brand agreed with the recommendation not to participate for these reasons.
Curdo mentioned that the tests to be used in this program would be more of a screening test for negative cases instead of a test trying to identify positives.
“It shows true negatives without having a lot of false positives,” he said.
He explained that diagnostic tests are looking for true positives, but a screening test is looking for true negatives amongst asymptomatic people.
The committee asked if they expected the numbers to start trending up again in case that could be a reason to reconsider pooled testing.
“We should continue to see numbers go down with vaccines and herd immunity,” Curdo said.
He went on to say that even if they see small spikes during February and April vacation, he expects those to go back down again quickly.
David Ragsdale and Brand both shared that they agree with the recommendation made by Crowe and Curdo.
“There’s not enough buy-in in our community to get the benefits,” Ragsdale said.
Brand thanked the pair for joining and making a well-thought-out, rational choice.