This COVID-19 story ends with a positive test — but also a bit of hope.
Community Day School in Squirrel Hill has been doing “pooled testing” of staff and students whose parents consent for nearly two months. Students are tested each Monday in large groups and, if a group test comes back positive, more tests will follow to narrow down the threat —a preventative means of stemming the spread of the virus among children.
The first few weeks of pooled testing were uneventful, with a lot of negative tests. Then, right before Thanksgiving, Avi Baran Munro, CDS’ head of school, emailed parents that a student had tested positive for COVID.
“We notified the cohort who had direct exposure to this individual and provided quarantine guidelines,” Munro wrote. “While this is difficult news to receive, our routine testing was able to identify a COVID-19 case here at CDS before it would have likely been detected otherwise. We are hopeful that pooled testing results will resume being returned sooner each week to make this protective strategy even more effective.”
The testing method is gaining popularity in another Jewish school in Pittsburgh as well. Pooled testing started about eight weeks ago at Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, officials there confirmed. Hillel’s principal, Rabbi Sam Weinberg, was not available for further comment.
Pooled testing is not currently taking place at Yeshiva Schools, school officials there said.
CDS launched its pooled testing Oct. 11, through a partnership with the firm Concentric by Ginkgo. Through the program, which is funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Munro said she hopes “to identify COVID-19 cases quickly and early, which can help us make better decisions to try to stop an outbreak before it happens as another layer of protection.”
In early October, CDS officials contacted staff and parents of students to seek consent for the free testing, which occurs regularly at the school’s Forward Avenue campus. Testing was offered even if individuals didn’t present COVID-like symptoms and regardless of their vaccination status, school officials stressed.
“Pooling can test 15 people using one test,” officials said in an October letter to staff members. “All individuals in a pool (e.g., a cohort, homeroom, or group of employees) swab the inner part of their lower nostrils and place their swabs in a single tube. The test is quick, painless, and easy, and young children typically can do it themselves with no issues. The samples in that tube are then shipped to the lab and run as a single sample, using one test.”
Community Day School leaders said they also went to extensive lengths to protect individuals’ personal and health-related information.
The names of the people in the pooled samples cannot be entered by schools into the HIPAA-compliant Concentric website, and the participants are anonymous to the company, CDS officials said. The company also never sees information about which person’s swab is in which tube. PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.