By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
More than 1,000 Birmingham City School students, faculty and staff are being regularly tested for COVID-19 in efforts to keep students in the classrooms, school leaders said on Wednesday.
“We also want to provide testing to catch those asymptomatic [showing no symptons] individuals who may be spreading COVID and not know it…because we know it is important for students to be in school face to face,” said BCS Superintendent Mark Sullivan, Ed.D.
Marcia Henderson, principal of Robinson Elementary School in East Lake, said a testing program put in place by BCS that checks for the virus contributes to her goal of getting back to “traditional learning . . . We want our students. We need our students,” she said.
Robinson is in its third week of testing, Henderson said, and the number of people registering to be tested has risen each week, with 82 students and six staff members opting in so far.
“I believe that, because of the numbers and the permission [to opt in] slips that are coming in, that parents believe in this, and they are very appreciative of this opportunity to have their students tested here at Robinson Elementary,” Henderson said. “It’s an easy process.”
The testing program, which focuses on testing people not showing symptoms, is a collaboration between the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) School of Public Health and BCS. Julie Preskitt, one of the project’s principal investigators from UAB, said about 1,300 individuals have registered for the testing system-wide.
Testing people who don’t have symptoms is important for tracking the virus where it might be missed, she said.
“[People without symptoms] don’t realize that they are inadvertently potentially spreading that to other students, to staff, to teachers,” Preskitt said. “This routine testing is the best way that we have of preventing this silent spread and maintaining a safe in person traditional learning environment, which we know to be the way that our students can learn best.”
Henderson said parents feel safer with the testing program in place.
“Initially, they may have been a little uncomfortable with sending their students to school, but they know that we are doing all we can to keep their students safe,” said the principal, “and testing is one of those areas we are working towards keep the students safe in the building.”
While some have stopped paying attention to the virus, Sullivan said parents can see the value in BCS’s testing program.
“I know that with vaccinations, with a declining rate of COVID in our community, a lot of people are kind of letting their guards down. COVID is still out there, it is still very dangerous,” Sullivan said, “and there’s still a lot of people in our local area who are not vaccinated, so I think our parents can see the benefit of having testing.”
Since beginning the program, BCS has only discovered three asymptomatic cases of the virus and Sullivan said that’s because of the work the school system has done to combat the virus.
“Three is too many because those three did not know they had COVID,” Sullivan said, “but I think it speaks to the mitigation efforts that we have and trying to make sure we follow the guidance of the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] …”