Wellesley schools readjusting COVID-19 testing plans heading into Thanksgiving

The Wellesley Public Schools system up until now has discouraged students and staff from stocking up on COVID-19 viral test kits at home, concerned that not picking them up on a weekly basis might lead to some forgetfulness. But in light of the recent spike in positive cases at the high school and with Thanksgiving break fast approaching, WPS is going to change things up a bit in the short term.

WPS Supt. Dr. David Lussier said during Monday’s Board of Health meeting that the school system will be distributing two kits per person this week, one to be returned next Monday, and another for the Monday following Thanksgiving (students have that day off, teachers have a professional day).

The surveillance testing program is voluntary, though all faculty and staff, and all Middle School and High School students, are being encouraged to participate. About 70% to 80% are getting tested, with some missing out while they quarantine, Lussier said. As a public school system, WPS can’t make the tests mandatory.

The superintendent added that there’s interest in conducting more baseline testing at the high school before classes resume post-Thanksgiving. But this will be a bit complicated logistically, he acknowledges, given families’ holiday plans.

WPS has brokered good discounts with testing partners such as Mirimus so far, and currently has funding for its testing program via the Wellesley Education Foundation that would carry it through winter break. “We’ve got to make some decisions going forward after that,” Lussier said.

In discussing viral testing program funding, Lussier was responding to a question at the meeting from the Advisory Committee’s John Lanza. Lanza and Board of Health members recently discussed funding and other aspects of the viral testing program at another Board of Health meeting, and revisited those questions at this Monday’s meeting with the public school officials available to reply.

Since that earlier meeting, in a very public show of cooperation, Lussier and Wellesley Health Director Lenny Izzo have co-signed letters updating the entire Wellesley community about the positive cases at the high school, which has become a COVID-19 cluster.

Plenty of joint work remains between WPS and the Health Department, as was clear from discussion at this Monday’s meeting about the intricacies of contact tracing within the schools and across communities when WPS staff tests positive. Additional forensic steps will be taken to root out what caused the virus to spread at Wellesley High.

“We have irrefutable evidence that there was transmission in the school despite all the steps we had taken and mitigation efforts,” Lussier said. “It’s really important that we understand as much as we can of what may have been behind some of these cases before we reopen…”