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The impact of COVID-19 testing on back to school in one district: ‘We are all in this together as a community’

This school year, the things that will make a difference are just different.

This year, things like COVID-19 testing, among lots of other things, will impact how many students our districts can serve in classrooms and schools.

On Saturday, Dr. Scott Elliott — if you don’t know him, he’s the superintendent in Watauga County — and Jennifer Greene, the director of the local health department, worked together to provide more than 700 free COVID-19 tests — with results expected today. Yep, that’s right, within 48 hours thanks to a partnership with Mako Medical Labs.

“We are all in this together as a community,” said Elliott.

The turnaround is important because Elliott is making decisions about the return to school right now.

Currently he is planning on opening under the governor’s plan B with what he calls a 2×3 flex model — that means there will be two cohorts of students (determined largely by last name) and half of the students will be in person on Monday and Tuesday with remote learning on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and the other half of the students will start each week with remote learning and then be in person on Thursday and Friday. An all virtual academy is also being offered and the application is open through July 26.

Cars started lining up for testing in the parking lot of Watauga High School at 7:30 a.m. and testing was planned from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. An interpreter was on hand for Spanish-speaking members of the community. Once testing started, one car said it took about an hour to get through the line. Even the sheriff waited. The county provided funding for the testing through the CARES Act.

People in the community heard about the free testing in many ways, including local media and social media like this post on Facebook. The hashtag on social media was #ShowYourLove.

According to the state’s dashboard, Watauga County has 172 cases of coronavirus. “We’ve seen our trends go up in the last three weeks,” said Greene.

Younger adults ages 18-24 are the majority of cases right now, she said, and folks have started traveling which may be contributing to the increase. Elliott noted that being a university community with students headed back to Appalachian State University in the next few weeks also may impact the trends.

“We are going to continue to have to work through it as a community,” said Elliott. In the meantime, he was super thankful for what he called a “tremendous turnout.”

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.