Schools consult with health systems experts

Professionals will provide context for how testing fits into larger reopening initiative.

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Island schools have approved funds for a testing program. — Courtesy Centers for Disease Con

School officials on the COVID-19 testing task force will be meeting with Dr. Michael Stoto, a professor of health systems administration and population health at Georgetown University, to determine how best to test students and staff in Island schools.

According to a press release issued by Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVYPS), the group of elected and appointed school and public health officials were initially going to use a testing system from Abbott Laboratories proposed by school physician Dr. Jeff Zack. But the implementation of that system was reconsidered, as it was not in compliance with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the release states.

Additionally, the release says new options for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing “warrant closer consideration.”

“In short, deciding on the right option for Island schools requires additional expert input. With this in mind, the group is expanding its reach to find the best and most practical testing regimen,” the release states.

Edgartown health agent and member of the testing task force Matt Poole said Stoto will discuss with the group their different roles, and provide a sense of “what testing offers, and what it doesn’t offer.” 

“It’s kind of like Testing 101. We understand that testing is not the magic bullet — it is just an important element in the whole array of measures we should take advantage of, if we are able to,” Poole said.

According to Poole, Stoto will deliver context to how testing fits in with the overall effort to evaluate measures of risk for the Island community, specifically for schools.

“It is a very difficult puzzle, how it might all fit together. And it probably isn’t going to be perfect, but it is a necessary next step,” Poole said. “We are figuring out how to do this job together and work into our roles. I think we are all hopeful and optimistic.”

Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said officials with the testing task force have already spoken with another public health professional, Dr. Ben Miller, and both experts would be good options for consultants.

“We are really trying to put together a plan that makes the most sense efficiency-wise and cost-wise. Something that would keep students and staff safe that we can realistically do, and can be done fairly effectively,” D’Andrea said.

He added that Stoto will provide an overview of his plan that he suggests the schools implement, and whichever consultant is chosen will continue to work with the task force on an ongoing basis. D’Andrea said he anticipates a recommendation will be proposed at next week’s All-Island School Committee meeting, although nothing has been confirmed.

The testing task force will be undergoing conversations with Stoto, who has, according to his Georgetown biography, developed methods for evaluation of community health assessments, and is an expert in public health systems research, which evaluates federal, state, and local public health systems.

During the pandemic, Stoto’ research has focused on surveillance systems to guide decision-making and the interpretation of test results, as well as policies for testing.

According to the release, Stoto was first identified by the Island boards of health when he studied the Island’s emergency response to the H1N1 influenza virus in 2009.

He wrote a paper that outlined the school vaccination program that was created to combat the virus.

As the task force continues to work on a recommendation for schoolwide testing, they will continue to identify public health experts who can advise them on the most efficient and effective way to test students, teachers, and staff.

Going forward, the TestMV site at the high school remains open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and with proper parental consent, now accepts asymptomatic individuals as young as 5 years old. Similarly, the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital will test anyone exhibiting symptoms of the virus. If you have symptoms, please contact your primary care provider. 

To register and schedule an appointment with TestMV, call 877-336-9855.