The Huntingdon Area School Board (HASB) met Monday night for a special school board meeting over Zoom and heard from Dr. Regina Lamendella, a professor of biology at Juniata College and co-owner of Contamination Source Identification (CSI), a Huntingdon-based company specializing in infectious disease testing, about the potential for COVID-19 testing of faculty and students this fall.
HASB president Dr. Ronald Long began the discussion by asking Lamendella how useful testing would be without the testing of 100% of students.
“I know there will be 10% to 15%, maybe more, of parents who will not allow their children to be tested. Will that throw out the statistic for what you’re looking for?” he asked.
“Certainly, in terms of compliance with testing, the higher the percentage, the better,” said Lamendella. “I can tell you from our experience with nursing homes that have done the 100% testing we’ve been able to find that needle in the haystack. But I will say that even if you could test 85% to 90% of your population, that’s still significant in terms of finding true positives.”
Long wondered how often testing would need to be done.
“In a nursing home setting you have control over the environment with residents who are staying there,” he said. “But we have students and faculty and other personnel who are leaving and coming back. What effect does that have and how often would testing need to be done.”
“Our experience with nursing homes, it’s not the residents, it’s the people who are coming and going...I’ll say I don’t say there is any real answer but, given the incubation time for the virus, the two-week rule has been the rule of thumb,” replied Lamendella.
Superintendent Fred Foster responded to a message submitted over Zoom asking whether students would be allowed to attend school if a parent were to refuse COVID-19 testing.
“We haven’t made any recommendations or you all (the board) haven’t approved testing. Part of our conversation was just putting this tool in the tool box...we’re not even there to determine whether we’ll use testing at this point,” he said.
Individual tests for the most effective RTPCR test, which directly tests for the virus as opposed to the antibody tests which test for the immune response to SARS-COV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, cost close to $99 per test. Lamendella said there is pool testing approach to testing which is much cheaper and is still as effective.
“Something that we’ve developed and we’ve been working with the state of Pennsylvania and the Food and Drug Administration is a pool testing approach in which we can save on time and reagent time. Essentially, how this works, is you pool X amount of swabs into one reaction. This saves on immensely on the extraction cost and brings the per sample cost down to $45,” she said.
Lamendella concluded by stressing how important she believes testing is to stopping the spread of COVID-19.
“I know there is a lot of questions that need to be answered. But I think that for testing to be at the center of what we do is going to help prevent massive outbreak,” she said.
Foster noted earlier in the session that he anticipates a health and safety plan being in place that could be presented at the HASB board meeting July 27.
Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.