COVID Safety Update: limited test availability, new requirements and response

A Message from the COVID safety team

We wanted to let you know about some important changes in our COVID response as we adjust our communications and processes in response to new state requirements, the current surge in cases and how to best serve our community moving forward.

Please keep reading to learn more about what is new in the following areas:

  • We are expecting to have limited access to rapid tests at our schools and Family Resource Center for at least two to three weeks
  • We are focusing contact tracing efforts on highest priority areas
  • We are asking all families to consent to rapid testing in their Skyward account.
  • If someone in your household is COVID positive, unvaccinated staff and students must stay home until their household member is no longer contagious (see below).
  • PreK students who test positive have a 10-day isolation requirement rather than a 5-day.

Limited access to tests

Unfortunately, the state Department of Health has notified us that there are insufficient COVID-19 tests for schools across the state, and this shortage is expected to impact all schools over the next 2-3 weeks. We are disappointed with this news, which comes at a challenging time with the Omicron surge and new government programs for free at-home tests.

As a result of the shortage, we will be prioritizing tests for the following people:

  • Unvaccinated close contacts participating in Test to Stay
  • Staff or students experiencing symptoms of COVID-19
  • Students participating in extracurricular activities such as athletics (required by WIAA) and performing arts*

*We may need to make difficult decisions in the coming weeks regarding athletics, such as delaying the start of seasons.

We appreciate efforts by staff and families to use tests for risk reduction, but we are asking everyone to rely on other tools including masking and staying home when you are sick. For fully vaccinated students and boosted staff, we are not able to provide rapid testing unless the individual has COVID symptoms, even if they are a close contact.

There are tests available in the community and those options area listed on the Whatcom County Health Department website. To make an appointment for testing, please call the Health Department scheduling line: 360-778-6075.

We will keep families and staff updated on this situation and we are very sorry for the inconvenience.

Contact tracing priorities

We are prioritizing contact tracing to high priority settings such as athletics and classrooms where distancing may not be developmentally feasible. We will notify unvaccinated close contacts who were exposed to COVID-19 within the past five days and offer rapid (antigen) testing at schools.

Case counts for confirmed positive cases that were at school during their contagious period will continue to be reported by schools on the BPS COVID-19 dashboard, which is updated daily. This count does not include individuals who were not at school while contagious and there may be delays as we learn about cases. You can see all COVID cases across our community on the Whatcom County COVID dashboard.

Consent for rapid testing now in Skyward

Rapid testing at school requires parent/guardian consent, and we have created an online form for families to provide their consent through Skyward Family Access account. We ask all families to take a few minutes to fill out the testing consent form for your child(ren), which will allow us to rapid test them at school for the rest of the school year.

Log in to Skyward Family Access and follow these instructions to fill out the consent form. If you are having trouble accessing Skyward, contact your school office or click the “forgot your login/password” link.

Vaccine clinics

BPS is continuing to hold vaccine clinics in schools including a clinic for 5-11 year olds on Thursday, Jan. 27 at Cordata Elementary School. Upcoming clinics are listed on the BPS COVID-19 webpage under Vaccine Information for Students and Staff.

Unvaccinated household contacts required to stay home

In response to new guidance from the Whatcom County Health Department, unvaccinated students who live with someone who has tested positive must stay home until all COVID positive persons in the household have completed their five-day isolation period. Students can then return to school after the last day of exposure in the home and start the Test to Stay program, which provides regular rapid testing.

This same protocol applies to staff who have not yet received their booster.

Clarification on shortened DOH isolation

The recent change in DOH guidance allows individuals who test positive to return to school after a shortened five-day isolation if they wear a well-fitting mask for days 6-10. If a student is unable to wear a mask, they will need to complete a 10-day isolation. This includes all PreK students and may include students with sensory or other issues that prevent them from wearing a mask.

Have a question that we haven’t addressed yet? Contact  BPS.Health@bellinghamschools.org