Mount Greylock Updates COVID Testing and Protocols

Photo+courtesy+of+The+Berkshire+Eagle

Photo courtesy of The Berkshire Eagle

Lucy McWeeny

For the Mount Greylock Regional district, a new COVID-19 testing protocol will go into effect on Monday, January 17th. This updated protocol will end the current test and stay program, excluding Pre-K, and move toward stricter guidelines in regards to testing and quarantining for students considered to be close contacts.

Once this protocol goes into effect, unvaccinated students who have been exposed in-school to someone who tested positive for COVID,  will be required to quarantine for five days. Up until this point, all close contacts have been allowed to participate in the “test and stay” program, which was implemented at the high school and both elementary schools. This allowed close contacts to continue to attend school as long as they tested negative for COVID everyday for seven days, regardless of symptoms and vaccination status. 

However, close contacts are now required to quarantine if they are unvaccinated. This is a change from prior COVID protocols which did not require any students to quarantine as long as they “receive a negative COVID test from a physician or testing center and have symptoms clear prior to returning to school,” according to the Massachusetts guidelines that the district follows. 

In-line with past protocols, vaccinated but symptomatic close contacts are still allowed to remain in school provided they participate in the test and stay program that is already in place. Close contacts who are both asymptomatic and fully vaccinated are exempt from testing and quarantine response protocols.

The main shift in COVID protocols is the quarantine requirement for unvaccinated close contacts. According to the Mount Greylock Nurse Nichole Russell, the driving factor behind this change has to do with the vaccination status of students at Mount Greylock.

Russel said, “We want our whole student body to become vaccinated, and if we do the test and stay, that allows them [the students] to not become vaccinated.” She added, “We are in support of vaccination.”

An increase in vaccinated students will likely decrease transmission and symptomatic cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “A growing body of evidence suggests that COVID-19 vaccines also reduce asymptomatic infection and transmission.” Because vaccinated close contacts do not have to quarantine, the school hopes this will encourage the student body to get vaccinated.

The quarantining protocol for close contacts does not apply to close contacts who are determined to be asymptomatic, classroom or bus close contacts, or have had COVID within the past 90 days. 

In regards to close contacts outside of school, the district states that “Unvaccinated people who are close contacts as a result of outside of school exposure are required to quarantine. They are not eligible for Test and Stay.” In line with in-school close contact protocols, fully vaccinated close contacts outside of school are not required to quarantine as long as they remain asymptomatic.

After quarantining for five days, unvaccinated close contacts can return to school on the sixth day if determined to be asymptomatic. The same is true for COVID positive students. They are required to isolate for five days, and may return on the sixth if asymptomatic. For the five days following their return, these students must remain masked at all times except when eating and drinking and will eat in an alternate location during that time. 

Although this updated testing protocol is designed to increase the vaccination rate in the Mount Greylock district, some feel it is unlikely that the quarantine requirement will have a dramatic impact on the students. Mount Greylock Principal Jacob Schutz said, “I don’t think it will affect us much because most of us are vaccinated.”

Russell said, “I’d like to say that the vaccination is going to take care of it and everybody is going to be asymptomatic.” But, she added, “you just never know.”

As long as students remain asymptomatic and continue to get vaccinated, the updated quarantining protocols will not have much of an effect on the test and stay program. However, with an uptick in cases this past week, from seven positive student cases to twenty five, the future remains uncertain. 

The school district is also hoping that more students will participate in the weekly pool testing program to ensure there isn’t community spread within the school. Currently, 387 (73%) of students are signed up for testing. In recent weeks, however, only 250-270 of those students have actually participated. 

For the moment a move to online school for the district seems unlikely, although always a possibility. Schutz said, “We know students learn best when together with a teacher.” He added, “Since we haven’t had any documented in-school transmissions it’s been easy for us to only have to quarantine on the individual level.”