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ITHACA, NY -- The Ithaca City School District will start offering optional COVID-19 screening testing for students within the next couple of weeks. The program will allow the district to test every student who consents each week.

The district is working with a company called Affinity Empowering that will allow students to get their testing results within 24 hours.

According to a letter sent to families in the school district, the state required schools to increase screening testing capacity to weekly for every student with caregiver consent. Last year, the district tested 10% of in-person students each week.

Affinity Empowering is part of Operation Expanded Testing, a program supported and funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to “provide COVID-19 testing to K-12 schools, Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other select community organizations such as congregate living settings,” according to its website. The testing comes at no cost to the school district.

Guardians of any students under the age of 18 will have to register their student ahead of time for the testing. However, if students are symptomatic there are immediate tests they can take through the nurse’s office and in partnership with Cayuga Health Systems, BOCES and the Tompkins County Health Department.

“There will be several of us throughout the district who will have access to the positive results so we can respond immediately,” Deputy Superintendent Lily Talcott said at the Sept. 28 Board of Education meeting.

Talcott also clarified that right now unvaccinated staff are responsible for securing their own weekly tests and submitting the results, however once the program with Affinity Empowering is up and running smoothly with students, staff will have access to it as well.

Right now the plan is to offer testing earlier in the morning before school and during lunch periods to minimize the interruption of learning time for students. Talcott said it’s estimated that about 3,000 students will be consented for testing each week.

With much talk of the nursing and staff shortages in the district, there was some concern about who would be in charge of running the testing program. Talcott said they’re advertising the positions now, but have a few people who are ready to go already.

“We have some retired nurses, retired administrators and some other folks who will be engaging,” she said. She added that at first many of the central office employees will be there to help too.

According to the district, Tompkins County Health Department is the only entity that can quarantine or isolate individuals, so the school district will provide information to them regarding close contacts of anyone who tests positive. Student and staff privacy laws do not allow the district to share the identities of COVID-19 positive individuals to others.

Talcott said Affinity Empowering is currently working on getting all the testing supplies ready and hopes to have the program up and running within two weeks.

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