Pottsgrove Training Team for In-School Virus Tests

LOWER POTTSGROVE PA – Rapid in-school “assurance testing,” intended to identify individuals who may be infected by COVID-19, could offer Pottsgrove School District teachers and students a “greater sense of security,” district Superintendent Dr. William Shirk reported during Tuesday’s (Feb. 9, 2021) school board meeting. Pottsgrove is training testers now, and they may start work within weeks, he added.

Several other Montgomery County school districts are already using test teams with positive results, Shirk said. Assuming the Pottsgrove team’s abilities can be certified by next week, Shirk said, a program kickoff later this month or in early March seems possible. It would assure teachers, in particular, because they could “walk into our buildings, knowing they’re safe,” he noted.

News of the test program comes as the national Centers for Disease Control planned Wednesday (Feb. 10) to release new guidelines for how and when to reopen schools around the country. The National Education Association, with which Pottsgrove teachers and the Pottsgrove Education Association union are affiliated, has praised rapid testing as a “promising development” in the coronavirus fight.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Shirk said of the program.

Pottsgrove, like districts elsewhere, has had its share of COVID-19 disruptions in recent weeks:

  • Students attending hybrid online and in-person classes at Pottsgrove Middle School returned Tuesday to classrooms after the building was closed Jan. 26, when the Montgomery County Office of Public Health determined the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases there had increased.
  • Lower Pottsgrove Elementary School, closed Jan. 29 in response to the number of “presumed positive” cases there, was scheduled to reopen Wednesday.

There’s good news ahead, though, Shirk suggested. Medical models seem to indicate virus infection rates locally and regionally “will continue to drop” during the next three to four weeks, he said. As of Feb. 4 (Thursday), the district-wide 14-day virus positivity rate has declined from 16.94 percent on Dec. 31 (2020) to 11.43 percent, a 5-1/2 percent drop during five weeks of measurement.

The 14-day rate in Pottsgrove’s three townships has dropped as well in the same period; in Lower Pottsgrove from 19.57 to 13.49 percent, in Upper Pottsgrove from 16.13 to 7.51 percent, and in West Pottsgrove from 12.05 to 11.11 percent, district statistics show.

In the interim, however, Shirk lamented that many Pottsgrove teachers “continue to wait in line” for vaccines against the virus. Gov. Tom Wolf’s recent declaration to move individuals age 65 and older into the group first designated to receive vaccines “has put them behind,” the superintendent said.

Coronavirus test photo (at top) by dronepicr via Flickr and Wikimedia Commons, used under a Creative Commons license