COVID testing: The key to trust, safety, and agility in uncertain times

Implementing end-to-end health and safety programs and processes has taken on a whole new importance for all academic institutions
By: | September 16, 2020
Photo by Prasesh Shiwakoti (Lomash) via Unsplash.

Alla Schay is the General Manager of Sterling’s Industrials, Government, & Education group. She is an operations management professional with experience in business process transformation, Six Sigma analysis, and software and CRM implementation.

Safety is always at the forefront for educators and school administrations. Before 2020, the focus was likely on access to the building or to campus and ensuring that faculty and staff had thorough background screenings done. If asked about threat of disease, the thing that would likely have come to mind was maintaining student immunization records or perhaps encouraging members of your community to get an annual flu shot.

The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly changed a wide range of thinking and priorities. Being unable to open— and keep open—school doors was typically contained to a particular region for a finite amount of time, like after a storm or other natural disaster. Now the question now on everyone’s mind is— “How will we keep our faculty, students, and the broader community safe from COVID-19 while providing a positive and effective academic experience?” Implementing end-to-end health and safety programs and processes has taken on a whole new importance for all academic institutions.

Testing as a means to reduce risk

In an ideal world, only members of the school community who had not been exposed to COVID-19 would enter a controlled “bubble,” never leave, and new people would never be introduced into the environment. That’s simply impossible for the vast majority of schools.

The good news is that, with recent advancements in non-invasive saliva-based testing, highly reliable test results can be achieved quickly to identify potential risk. Those results offer peace of mind about exposure, allowing a population to be considered “clear” to enter your environment. In conjunction with other best practices as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) such as disciplined social distancing and frequent hand-washing, the likelihood of introducing the virus into your community can be reduced. Additional follow-up tests at identified intervals can help determine whether your population remains COVID-free.

When you’re expected to be a health and disease expert…

Leaving it up to a teacher, staff member, or student to get a COVID-19 test on their own without providing guidance on where and how to get tested can create anxiety. In some locations, testing that can return rapid results may not be available. Even if everyone gets tested, effectively managing the results of those tests at scale can be a logistical nightmare. If a periodic re-test for the population is desired, the whole process starts again. Ultimately, a do-it-yourself approach is fraught with land mines and could become an open-ended administrative burden.

Let’s face it, we are now living in a time where school administrators, principals, and teachers are also expected to be health and disease experts in addition to their “day jobs.”

A more effective solution is to identify an experienced partner to implement a technology-based end-to-end solution. Similar to background screening and ongoing population monitoring that routinely occurs for drug tests, COVID testing requires a well-managed program to maintain health and safety.

A recommended approach would be to have saliva-based active virus (PCR) COVID-19 test kits that are pre-registered and then distributed to your target population, either at school or sent to their homes. A simple and proven user experience—for program administrators and those being tested—can help relieve anxiety and build trust.

Being ready for the unexpected

Inevitably, ad-hoc testing may be needed for instances where someone comes to school with symptoms indicating risk for COVID-19, like a fever or cough. Alternately, teachers, staff, or students may realize potential exposure has occurred and raise the need for testing. A compassionate approach is to immediately provide impacted individuals with test kits and recommend quarantine until results are returned, typically within 48 to 72 hours. As a supplement to testing done to enable a re-opening of schools, having a supply of pre-registered test kits on hand will allow you to immediately and effectively respond to new virus threats. This will help you remain agile as we navigate through this uncertain time.

Once you safely open your school’s doors, it is critical to have measures in place to keep them open. Testing that is available to your school community may help prevent academic disruption and the need for families to scramble to adjust, allowing greater focus on your underlying mission of providing a high-quality education within a safe environment.

Alla Schay is the General Manager of Sterling’s Industrials, Government, & Education group. She previously served as Sterling’s Client Services and Account Management leader, Chief Operating Officer, and Chief Human Resources Officer. Alla is an operations management professional with experience in business process transformation, Six Sigma analysis, and software and CRM implementation.