COVID-19 screening testing rolls out in Mustang community to reduce positive cases


Emily Shiff

Metea finished distributing screening test kits last week. This screening will help identify individuals who carry a high viral load.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their K-12 operational strategy for reopening schools on Feb. 26. The CDC mentioned screen testing as a guideline. With this, 204 partnered with SafeGuard Screening, LLC and will conduct optional weekly screening testing. The process began last week, and Metea finished distributing their first round of screening kits to students last Thursday. 

Metea began rolling out self-administered saliva test kits to students with the last names A-L the week of Feb. 22, and those with last names M-Z received kits last week. 

The CDC recommends screening testing as an additional step to accompany mitigation strategies in schools. The purpose of the screening is to identify those who are asymptomatic.

Assistant Principal Daniel DeBruycker has been handling the screening program at Metea and knows that this is an opportunity for students and staff to voluntarily test for COVID-19. The screening also tests for any high viral load which is the amount of virus in an infected individual.

“We have 279 students and 69 staff members who chose to participate, and those numbers are out of all the students that are in the building,” DeBruycker said. “For remote students, it was not offered by the district from my understanding.”

Each screening kit contains three weeks of material. This includes three test tubes, three sticker barcodes that are unique to each student, and small plastic baggies. The collection of saliva in the tube is put in the small plastic baggie where it is then dropped off at the commons or the auditorium lobby. 

Since Illinois is currently in Phase 4, schools have been adjusting to the new guidelines provided by the CDC, which focus on reducing transmission ultimately keeping schools open to keep in-person learning. 

Although hybrid learning comes with some face-to-face interactions with teachers, it also bears the weight of uncertainty: Are students feeling safe in the building?

Metea has had the highest number of cases since Nov. 26. Since the beginning of hybrid learning, there have been 18 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and an additional one over the weekend in the school alone based on last Friday’s dashboard. The district has notified families of three cases so far since the beginning of hybrid learning. This leaves students concerned for their well-being and questioning the integrity of the hybrid model. 

“It is a little concerning,” senior Alex Hall said. “I know every time I step into the school, I’m taking a risk.” 

204 began screening testing as a strategy “to monitor the surveillance of positivity rates within schools to inform decisions about in-person instruction and necessary mitigation instruction,” according to an announcement made by the district. 

“If your viral load is high within the sample, they being the district or company,  will communicate directly with that family and the district personnel that needs to know,” DeBruycker said. “We [Dr. Echols and Mr. DeBruycker] will know if someone tested positive, and there will be communication with specific directions that say ‘you have a high viral load and there is some type of virus, please get tested for COVID-19 before you are to enter the building’.”

An individual with a high viral load is instructed to quarantine during the time they are waiting for their COVID-19 test results to come back negative.

In the situation where an individual tests positive for COVID-19, they are asked by the school’s nurses and health department if they were within six feet of another individual for 15 minutes. The answers that they give will impact the process of contact tracing and who is communicated with. Contact tracing has become a helpful procedure in figuring out who was exposed to the virus, and who will need to quarantine and get tested. 

Metea Valley school nurse Elizebeth Grant referred questions about the process of COVID-19 test screening to assistant principal Daniel DeBruycker.

“The nurses have certain criteria that they are working with the health department in asking those questions, and then it could lead to more people quarantining,”  DeBruycker said. “We also can not share that name with everyone because there are HIPAA rules that make sure that people are protected.”

The district released the registration for the second round of COVID-19 screening last week. This second round will begin March 15 through April 9. The district will continue COVID-19 test screening until the end of this school year.