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Pilot program provides COVID testing at school and home

Health department teams with district to help students, staff and families

A pilot program launched this week is giving Godfrey-Lee students and staff easy access to no-cost COVID-19 testing. 

In partnership with the Kent County Health Department, the district is the first in Kent County to offer school-based testing for the novel coronavirus. Tests will be available curbside, in school or via home delivery for any student or staff member, in-person or virtual, who reports symptoms associated with the virus. 

“In Godfrey-Lee, the schools really act as a point of service for our families and our community, and we are thrilled to be able to offer this important service,” said Superintendent Kevin Polston. “I can’t really think of a better way to deliver what people need than right to their doorstep.”

The testing process, which began Monday, Oct. 5, works in conjunction with the district’s electronic health screening already in place. Each morning before school a parent fills out the health survey, and if a student is flagged for having any virus symptoms, he or she will be automatically eligible for a free test.

Families can choose to drive the student to school and have the test administered curbside or, since the district is so small, request that a test be delivered to their front door. In both cases the test will be administered by a bilingual staff member wearing full personal protective gear. 

Similarly, if a student or staff member develops symptoms at school, or if a student takes the health screener at school and shows symptoms there, school personnel will be able to give the test on site. 

Janet Piccolo, Kent School Services Network’s Community School Coordinator for Godfrey Elementary School, is helping administer curbside tests at the school. So far, she said the kits have been “very easy to use” and require minimal assistance once she explains the procedure. She also feels confident that the district has provided proper PPE for test administrators to wear. 

“I believe having these tests is going to promote positive community relationships with our parents,” Piccolo said Tuesday. “It gives them the reassurance that we’re doing everything we can to keep their family safe.”

Piccolo says these rapid-response tests give Godfrey-Lee families ‘reassurance that we’re doing everything we can to keep their family safe’

Quick Turnaround for Results

Eight tests were administered over Monday and Tuesday — all negative, Polston said: “So far, so good! We are just getting started and we anticipate the amount of tests administered to increase.”

The pilot program uses saliva-based tests, provided by Arctic Medical Laboratories in Grand Rapids, instead of the more widely known nasal-swab method. These tests are easier for children to take, provide results within 24 hours and do not require administration by a health-care professional, all of which makes them ideal for a school-based program. Arctic Labs will pick up the used test kits at each school every afternoon and return results the following day. 

“I think if you’re a parent and you’re on the fence about it, thinking your child may have symptoms or might have been exposed, it just takes the guessing out of the equation,” Polston said. “And in the meantime, the child only has to stay home one to two days, max (if test results are negative), because we’re going to have results by the next day.

“We know this testing can be a significant way of stopping community spread because, in those cases where you’re just not sure, it’s going to be easy to err on the side of caution when there’s a test available to you at no cost.” 

Technically, the program will bill a family’s private insurance or Medicaid for the cost of the test. But if a family does not have insurance, or the insurance company requires a copay or deductible, the Kent County Health Department will cover those costs through funds awarded by the federal CARES Act. 

Kevin Polston

Demographics Key to Targeting District

Being able to provide a significant virus-related resource at no cost to a community like Godfrey-Lee’s is a key reason why the district was chosen to pilot this program, said Joann Hoganson, community wellness division director for the Kent County Health Department. The KCHD regularly meets with local superintendents to discuss current health issues and had expressed a desire to pilot a school-based testing program in the county. 

“We selected Godfrey-Lee because they have a very high rate of children who received free and reduced-cost lunches – 95 percent – and their student body reflects the racial and ethnic groups that have been most impacted by COVID-19 over the last six months,” said Hoganson. “Ninety-two percent of Godfrey-Lee students are children of color. 

“We have limited resources in our battle against (the coronavirus), and we want to use them where they are most needed,” she added. “The health department is proud to be piloting this system of testing for students and staff at Godfrey-Lee.”

Polston said he considers testing to be an extension of virus mitigation procedures that are already in place throughout the district. Those include masks, hand-washing, additional cleaning and sanitizing measures, social distancing and keeping students in small cohorts. However, from an equity standpoint, free testing will help eliminate some health-care-related barriers within the Godfrey-Lee community.

“We say those that need the most should get the most, and when we think about access to health care, we know there are health equity gaps here,” he said. “So, to be able to meet a need in their community, at a place they know and trust, is significant. Education should be as accessible as possible to each member of our community, and health and wellbeing is a big element in being able to do that. And so, then, testing for COVID is critical.”

Godfrey Elementary’s KSSN Community School Coordinator, Janet Piccolo, stands in full personal protective equipment outside the school prior to administering a test

Expansion Planned to Other Districts

Based on numbers he’s seen so far this year via the electronic health screening, Polston anticipates the district will use approximately 10-20 test kits per day. Arctic Labs has the capacity to perform a few thousand tests each day, but testing in this school-based program will be limited to students and staff, and not offered to family members, in anticipation of eventual countywide growth. 

Once the KCHD has had ample time to learn from the pilot program, Hoganson said they will expand testing to other Kent County school districts, with the goal of using the rapid test resource to identify and isolate cases quickly and help prevent the spread of the virus within schools. “We can test our way through COVID-19 but we can’t test our way out of COVID-19 – we’ll have to have a vaccine to get us out of it,” said Polston. “So until there’s a vaccine, testing is a critical mitigation strategy. I think school-based testing can really serve our community well, and we hope other superintendents will be able to just kind of ‘grab and go’ what works best for their district when it’s their turn.”

A look at one of the rapid-response COVID-19 test kits available to Godfrey-Lee students and staff
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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is associate editor, reporter and copy editor. She is an award-winning journalist who got her professional start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate and proud former Chimes editor, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio


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