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JCPS rolls out ‘test-to-stay’ strategy

Liz Schlemmer

Jefferson County Public Schools rolled out its “test-to-stay” program Monday, allowing students and staff exposed to COVID-19 to stay in school, as long as they test negative for the virus each evening during the quarantine period.

“This just allows the kids to come back sooner—to not miss, at minimum, seven days of school,” JCPS District Health Manager Eva Stone told reporters Monday.

Until this week, if an unvaccinated student or staff member had an in-school exposure to COVID-19, they had to quarantine at home for at least seven days. Now if they’re exposed, school nurses give students and staff the option to undergo daily rapid testing for seven days at one of around 60 JCPS testing sites. 

Sites are open after school into the evening, but hours vary depending on the location. Test results come back the evening of the test. If they are negative, students and staff can attend school or work the next day. 

Here is a list of hours and locations, as well as instructions for registering in advance.

The testing is free, and students and staff are only eligible for test-to-stay if they do not have symptoms and are not living with someone who is actively infected.

Students and staff may also get their test from a health care provider, who must then provide the results to the school.

JCPS is one of several Kentucky school districts now using the test-to-stay strategy. Others include Oldham County Schools, Fayette County Public Schools and Green County Schools. State lawmakers made federal coronavirus relief funds available for districts to implement the test-to-stay strategy during their special session in September. JCPS is using the funds to contract with SphereDx, a Lexington-based diagnostic testing laboratory.

"All the talk about the return to learning and making up for learning loss—one of the most important things we can do is make sure that they’re at school to receive in-person learning,” Stone said. 

The program relies on rapid tests, which health experts say are less accurate than PCR tests, and more likely to give a false negative. However, Stone said the less-sensitive rapid tests “are actually good for this type of setting.”

“The rapid tests are a good test of infectiousness,” Stone said. “We are trying to make sure that anybody who is infectious is not around other people and not transmitting COVID.”

People who have recovered from COVID-19 often test positive for the virus on PCR tests, even if they are no longer infectious.

Students and staff using ‘test-to-stay’ will still be counted as “quarantined” on the district’s COVID-19 dashboard. Stone said the district is still figuring out how to publicly report the number of students using ‘test-to-stay.’

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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