WESTERLY — The school district is working to make rapid tests for COVID-19 more easily available for asymptomatic students, teachers and other staff members. In conjunction with the effort, student athletes will be required to be tested weekly as a condition for participation in their sport.
Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau provided an outline of the plan to make tests available through the school district to the School Committee during its meeting Wednesday.
Starting next week, Garceau said, student athletes will be tested on the first day of school each week. The athletes, Garceau said, will be required to undergo the testing in order to participate in their sport. Mandatory testing for student athletes is being implemented by superintendents and athletic directors throughout much of the state, Garceau said. He likened the testing regimen to ones being used for college and professional sports.
"We want to protect the health of kids and coaches and to make the seasons viable — to have athletics continue because it's important," Garceau said.
Under current state guidance, Garceau said athletic teams must quarantine if a single player or coach tests positive for the virus. Recently, Garceau said, the Westerly High School swim team had to quarantine due to a positive test.
Teachers and other staff members will have an opportunity to be tested on Mondays and Thursdays. While tests for asymptomatic individuals are available through the state, Garceau said, district officials want to improve access.
"We think it will help with early identification, lower anxiety levels, bring a degree of comfort, and help establish data sets," Garceau said.
Tests will likely be offered for students on Wednesdays, but Garceau said the details of where the tests will be administered had not yet been determined. Schools in the district are closed for deep cleaning on Wednesdays. In addition to students testing at an as yet undetermined school facility, Garceau said, district officials hope to partner with community organizations to make testing available for students whose families do not have access to their own transportation. Testing for students will remain available at the Walmart Supercenter on Post Road, Garceau said.
A team of district employees received training on how to administer the tests, which produce results in about 15 minutes, on Wednesday, Garceau said. Increased availability of testing should reduce transmission of the virus and increase the chances of schools remaining open for in-person learning, Garceau said.
The district will use testing equipment provided by the state Department of Health and the state Department of Education, Garceau said.