Democrats need to take this seriously: elementary school closing for 10 days due to inadequate testing capacity
We are almost two years into this pandemic, and a K-8 school in Boston is being forced to close for 10 days due to lack of testing capacity. First, capacity was inadequate to quell an outbreak:
Curley’s school testing program became overwhelmed when more than 500 students a day needed testing. That meant some infected students remained in school before getting tested for COVID-19 or getting their results.
And now testing capacity is inadequate to avoid a prolonged shutdown:
The commissioner recommended several steps, including asking the school district and the Boston Public Health Commission to set up testing that would begin on Nov. 14.
Cassellius said in her letter that only one vendor of the three the school district contacted would be able to begin testing as early as Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, and would only have the capacity to test about 100 individuals. The Curley School has approximately 1,000 students and more than 100 staff members.
Although the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education offered to assist with testing, Cassellius said that due to Curley’s diverse community, students may have difficulty getting to the testing site and the 36- to 48-hour turnaround time on tests would not allow students to safely return to school.
Figuring out how this happened would be a great dissertation project; I can’t figure it out this morning. But currently the Massachusetts legislature is debating how to spend $3.8 billion in federal covid relief funds. I searched the House version of the bill and found 4 references to “test” or “testing” that totaled $175k. Of course, I could easily have missed something, and no doubt there are many other relevant appropriation bills. But at the end of the day, the brute fact is that 21 months into this pandemic the Boston Public Schools are unable to test students in a minimally competent way to nip an outbreak in the bud or expeditiously reopen a school. They can only test 100 kids a day! There are 54,000 kids in Boston Public Schools, and they can only find the capacity to test 100 kids!
Of course, for such a small outbreak the capacity exists in the Boston area to test all the students right away. Why not set up an emergency testing site at the school, or put the students on a bus (masked, windows down) and take them to a testing site? Where is the mayor? Where is the governor? Where are the state and local education officials? Whose hair is on fire?
And what on earth will happen if there is a major case surge this winter?
Democrats need to reckon with their responsibility for this failure. Democrats in Congress could have prioritized testing capacity in several massive covid spending packages. The Massachusetts legislature could have done the same. The Boston Public Schools and the state health authorities bear responsibility for this train wreck as well. This has been so predictable, for so long.
I am not trying to let Republicans off the hook, but Democrats are the ones who want to maintain support for public schools and who want a competent government that tries to address important problems like climate change and poverty. It’s hard to see how they can maintain public support for their vision of the good society unless they figure out how to avoid this kind of fiasco going forward.