The Carlsbad Municipal School district is preparing for the new test to stay policy, which helps unvaccinated students avoid quarantines.
The New Mexico Public Education Department published new guidelines on Nov. 2 stating that unvaccinated students that come in close contact with someone with COVID-19 can return to school if they test negative for the virus. Until now, these students had to quarantine for at least 10 days.
Carlsbad Municipal Schools Superintendent Dr. Gerry Washburn said the new policy poses a challenge for some schools. He said the district will now have to keep a record of these tests and which students are vaccinated.
The new policy requires students that are exposed to be tested three times, on days one, three and five following possible exposure, according to the Public Education Department (PED). If a parent refuses to allow an exposed child to test for the virus they will still be required to quarantine for 10 days.
Even with these challenges, Washburn said the policy is an improvement that will allow more students to stay in school.
Carlsbad Municipal Schools (CMS) will provide tests but can also be taken at a pharmacy or doctor’s office that reports the results to the New Mexico Department of Health.
Washburn said the district is in the process of switching to a new testing system that is less invasive and can offer same-day results.
“It’s not the deep swab that we’ve been associating with testing when we were in the early days of this, it’s a shallow nasal swab,” Washburn said. “We knew that we had a lot of kids and staff that were really struggling to find a place to get tested so we have positioned ourselves well.”
Washburn said the new policy only applies to students that were exposed to COVID-19 at school. If a student comes in contact with someone that tested positive for the virus at home, they will still be required to quarantine.
The testing program is supported by a $64 million federal grant funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, the PED’s announcement on the policy stated.
Districts that register in the testing program will receive a $70,000 base grant plus $30 per student to cover the costs of testing.
CMS has already made plans to use allocate $384,000 from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund to coordinate surveillance testing and hire health and safety officers.
Washburn reminded parents that exposed children that are vaccinated will not have to test or quarantine as long as they have no symptoms. Now that vaccines are available for children ages five to 11 he said he encourages parents to vaccinate their children.
School nurses will be in charge of keeping COVID-19 vaccination records similar to those for required immunizations, Washburn said.
CMS COVID-19 case count
Cases cover a two-week period from Oct. 16 to Oct. 29. As of Oct. 29, 389 students have tested positive for COVID-19 since school started.
- Carlsbad High School: 3 rapid responses, 8 cases
- Alta Vista Carlsbad Intermediate School: 0 rapid responses, 1 case
- PR Leyva Carlsbad Intermedia School: 3 rapid responses, 3 cases
- Cottonwood Elementary School: 0 rapid responses, 1 case
- Desert Willow Elementary School: 0 rapid responses, 1 case
- Early Childhood Education Center: 2 rapid responses, 4 cases
- Carlsbad Early College High School: 0 responses, 0 cases
- Hillcrest Preschool: 0 rapid responses, 2 cases
- Monterrey Elementary School: 0 rapid responses, 2 cases
- Ocotillo Elementary School: 0 rapid responses, 3 cases
- Sunset Elementary School: 0 rapid responses, 1 case
A rapid response is initiated after at least one or more people from the school test positive for COVID-19 within a 24-hour timeframe. The school is required schools identify and test anyone they came in contact with.
Claudia Silva is a reporter from the UNM Local Reporting Fellowship. She can be reached at [email protected], by phone at 575-628-5506 or on Twitter @thewatchpup.