The Middletown public school district launched a pilot program to offer free rapid COVID-19 testing in schools for students and school personnel and state officials held a news conference Thursday morning about that program and hopes to offer testing to other districts as well.
Gov. Ned Lamont, Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona, Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim, school officials, and other state and local leaders held a news conference at 11 a.m. at the Macdonough Elementary School in Middletown.
This pilot program is the first of its kind in the state, where the school district is offering the testing with the help the State of Connecticut, governor, education commissioner and Middletown's Community Health Center.
Middletown Superintendent Michael Conner said he was in a board of education meeting when Cardona texted him to ask if he wanted to pilot BinaxNOW, the symptomatic test, to get results in 15 minutes and the board chair and mayor were supportive of taking part.
“We were looking at how to roll out BinaxNOW in a way that’s most effective. The goal is to safely keep our schools open and Middletown raised their hand and said we’re willing to do what we need to do to make it happen," Cardona said.
He said there are dozens of districts that are interested in learning more about it.
Lamont said one of the safest places to be amid the COVID-19 pandemic is in a Connecticut elementary school, where everyone is wearing masks.
Cardona said he's hoping to be able to bring other districts onboard.
“We haven’t seen widespread transmission, in schools, we’re seeing it in the community,” Cardona said, and testing like what is being done in Middletown schools will help reduce spread in the community.
“If we had not been doing the testing and the level or testing, and the sophistication of the tests that have made available to our schools, we would not have caught it when it was just a couple of people," Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim explained.
Florsheim said their new testing protocols saved their community from what could have been a much worse situation. Last week, the high school moved to hybrid learning for two weeks after an asymptomatic student and teacher tested positive for COVID-19.
“If it had gone another week, we would have had dozens of positive cases," he said.
The Connecticut Education Association said in a statement that they are in support of regular testing of students, teachers and families as a means to keep everyone safer, and pushed for continued oversight of COVID-19 guidelines to protect school communities.
"Connecticut has seen a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, and the governor has taken additional steps to mitigate the spread and tighten restrictions, including rolling back reopening plans to allow only 50% capacity in venues such as restaurants. We know the governor and education commissioner care deeply about Connecticut families, and that is why when safety is defined as half-capacity or less in our state's indoor spaces, school communities must be a part of that equation, not an exception to the rule. Our students and teachers deserve to be protected to the same degree as all Connecticut residents.