A Statistical Summary of AJA’s Weekly Covid Testing
In the following article, all numbers regarding Georgia’s Covid-19 cases were acquired from the Mayo Clinic. All numbers from AJA’s weekly testing were provided by the AJA administration and medical committee.
Beginning on Monday, January 10, AJA initiated weekly COVID-19 testing in school for students, faculty, staff, and administrators. Executive Director Ms. Franeen Sarif explained that, overall, the purpose of this testing was “to keep everybody safe and in school.” Underneath this umbrella, testing helped the administration and medical committee gauge “how we could relax the rules,” caught asymptomatic cases of COVID-19, allowed people to “quarantine for the shortest amount of time,” and kept the school running without pockets of outbreaks. To make weekly testing a possibility, AJA had to create an intricate system to get everyone tested during the allotted period of time and efficiently acquire and distribute results.
However, Ms. Sarif explains that the school did not master this system at first. When testing began on January 10, at the height of the Omicron surge, they were initially set to test with Mako Medical Laboratories on campus. This initial round of testing with MAKO proved to be unsuccessful, according to Ms. Sarif. Testing that first week was on a Monday, yet “by Thursday, we were only getting some results back, and they lost a large percentage [of the tests altogether].” By the time results came in, many found out they had been positive throughout the whole school week, so Ms. Sarif found that this negated the point of testing. “We wanted efficiency, we wanted accuracy, and we wanted speed,” which MAKO evidently did not provide.
Due to difficulties with MAKO, AJA resumed on-campus COVID-19 testing on Friday, January 28, now with Viral Solutions, which provided faster results. For the majority of the time in which AJA did testing on Fridays with Viral Solutions, one would get an email if they were positive right after Shabbat. But as Shabbat began starting later in the day and Viral Solutions were getting results back sooner— within 6-8 hours— “we were hoping we could get it before Shabbat.”
To ensure that everyone eligible got tested, Ms. Sarif created a list of students and “regularly” updated that list with those who are exempt due to recently having COVID-19. This exempt number peaked at 204 members of students, faculty, staff, and administration, and as of March 27 remained at 202. After compiling the list, every eligible person got a vial labeled with their name, so Ms. Sarif could easily contact the people on the remaining vials at the end of the day and remind them to get tested over the weekend prior to returning to school on Monday.
Viral Solutions tested on-campus on Fridays, from 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM. Yet, as more people tested positive across the testing period, the list of people who needed to get tested decreased, and Viral Solutions could swab everyone in about 75 minutes. Additionally, both AJA and Viral Solutions became more efficient at testing as the weeks went by. Ms. Sarif also pointed out that another important factor is the number of testers Viral Solutions sent, which can “affect our speed” as it varies.
Each week, testing times varied throughout Friday’s schedule. Ms. Sarif explained that this adjustment, although inconsistent from week to week, came as “a request from the instructional leaders that students are not taken out of the same class every week.” Moving around the testing time each week ensured that students did not consistently miss instructional time from a given class.
Nonetheless, the average time that a student spent getting tested was minimal, and Ms. Sarif assured that it should have only taken “half a minute maximum” for an individual student or faculty member to get a testing vial and be tested. But because students tested in grade groups, the entire process took about ten minutes per group. Each grade entered the lower school gym or the Homberger Commons where testing occurred, sat on the bleachers while they waited for their vial, and left together in about ten minutes. Ms. Sarif staggered testing times, so a new group entered the gym every five minutes.
Once the tests were complete, the next step was receiving results and quaranting if positive. That being said, Ms. Sarif explained that the school strategically placed testing on Friday to minimize the exposure time from a positive person in school and also limit the quarantine period. For fully vaccinated individuals, the quarantine length is five days with a negative rapid test, so if one tested positive on a Friday, “you can come back on the [following] Wednesday, and you only missed two school days.” Although the initial plan was to test on Wednesdays so that a positive individual could return on the following Monday, testing had to be done on Fridays “out of the convenience of when we could get Viral Solutions.”
Once the testing process began, AJA sent out a weekly dashboard to parents with the data of that week’s testing. As time went on, Ms. Sarif explained that they started including more details in this dashboard, such as the number of tests that were conducted, the number of exempt people, and the number of results that they were waiting for.
Throughout the weeks of testing, AJA “follow[ed] the general trend” in Georgia, explained AJA Medical Committee member Dr. Anna Steinberg, M.D. Specifically, this can be seen “in that the rate of PCR test positivity has gone down significantly in GA and in AJA from the end of Jan. 2022 till now.” Ms. Sarif agreed, noticing how AJA “matched” state trends because “as the state went down, so did we.” For instance, on the week of January 21, AJA had a positivity rate of 5.8%, and the positivity rate in Georgia on January 26 was 29.1%. More recently, as the case count fell, AJA had a 0.3% positivity rate on the week of March 21 – 27 and GA had a 1.6% positivity rate on March 24.
However, Dr. Steinberg added that while the overall trends are similar, “the numbers are quite different.” Namely, AJA’s numbers are generally lower than Georgia’s rates. On Friday, March 10, AJA had no positive cases, while Georgia still had a 2.4% positivity rate. One reason Dr. Steinberg finds for this is “that our AJA student and staff population have a much higher vaccination status than GA.” About 54% of Georgia citizens are fully vaccinated, but at AJA, High School vaccination rates range within the 80th percentile, and other grades have mid-70% to mid-90% vaccination rates.
Overall, Mrs. Sarif explained that weekly testing was “very helpful for us to monitor the health of the school.” She added that testing gave people a more “secure” feeling as AJA shifted to a mask optional policy. AJA completed their final set of weekly testing on Friday, April 1 with zero positive cases. As time has passed, AJA return has returned to a new normalcy while continuing to prioritize the health and safety of the school.