Expert Advisory Panel 4 discusses new COVID-19 testing site in Brookline

The+graph+above+shows+the+average+daily+COVID-19+cases+per+100%2C000+people+in+Mass.%2C+the+Brookline%2C+Boston%2C+Cambridge%2C+and+Newton+area%2C+and+Brookline.

AVA VARELL AND ANISA SHARMA/SAGAMORE STAFF

The graph above shows the average daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in Mass., the Brookline, Boston, Cambridge, and Newton area, and Brookline.

The Expert Advisory Panel 4: Public Health, Safety, and Logistics discussed the opening of a new COVID-19 testing site opening in Brookline and logistics within the hybrid reopening plans during a virtual meeting Friday, October 16th.

Brookline Town Administrator Mel Kleckner said Brookline’s first COVID-19 testing site, which will offer 24-hour results, is scheduled to be running in one to two weeks and will be operated by the startup company Mpathy LLC.

“The site will operate for 65 days throughout the fall up until December 31, 2020. It will be running for five days a week, eight hours per day. You can get appointments through an online scheduling system, but it will also accommodate walk-ins.” Kleckner said

The testing site will test anyone, however asymptomatic people will need to pay a fee. Kleckner and his team are working to ensure that those who are asymptomatic will be able to get reimbursed for testing through their insurance.

“As soon as there is a positive or negative case, we will be able to follow and track it.” Coordinator of School Health Service Tricia Laham said.

The town is currently searching for an outdoor location that will provide both drive and walk-in testing. The panel hopes that the chosen location will be easily accessible to people coming from public transportation and to those who are part of high-risk groups, such as the elderly.

Many members of the panel said that this testing site is a pilot and that by opening it, they are entering uncharted territory for Brookline. They are hoping that other nearby districts will follow Brookline’s lead and create testing sites of their own.

In accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Center for Disease Control (CDC), the panel decided that during the school day students and teachers should never be less than three feet apart and that their goal is for everyone to always be six feet apart, possibly with the help of physical barriers.

The panel agreed that during lunch, elementary students will be assigned seating six feet apart, will not have their masks on while they eat and will be allowed to quietly chat with classmates. Other breaks would include taking off one’s mask to readjust, quick water breaks and other brief removals of a student’s mask.

David Gacioch, co-chair of the panel, said that according to the Massachusetts COVID-19 response reporting, over the past fourteen days Brookline’s average daily cases per 100 thousand was 2.7. Massachusetts’ average was 8.7 and the group of Boston-Brookline-Cambridge-Newton’s was 9. Panel 4 plans to reevaluate the PSB reopening plan if two of the three average case rates surpass 10, their benchmark discussion trigger.

Many members of the panel expressed concern about the children in the youngest grades’ experiences with online learning. Consequently, panel member Dr. Benjamin Sommers believed that the younger grades should have priority on when they can safely return to school.

“The number of young children that are notably struggling with remote learning, in ways that are having substantial impacts on their well-being, is causing me concern and we’re getting this information that younger children are the least likely to get infected,” Sommers said. “Maybe younger kids need more in-person time and the older kids might not need as much if things are going better for them, and if they’re at a higher risk for spreading the virus.”

The panel also addressed the adversities of remote learning for adolescents. PSB’s return plan includes many adolescents returning in the later stages. According to the panel, adolescents spend more leisure time online leading to higher levels of depression and anxiety among other mental health issues.

Another priority the panel agreed on was for students with special needs to spend more school time in-person.

“I know that the first-to-return kids have been pushed out of the school for half their time,” Gacioch said. “This is a population that the school district decided was the highest risk in terms of not having adequate support at home; in some cases not having a safe place at home, food insecurity and lack of access to the services they need from the school.”

Looking at travel during the hybrid model, Gacioch suggested providing recommendations for travel that follow the CDC’s guidelines.

Members of the panel stressed the importance of having students participating in the hybrid model tested for COVID-19 before returning to in-person school after traveling to CDC high-risk states.

“Bottom line from the Health and Safety panel is that we need to be cognizant of the fact that there will be a need for a number of students, potentially even staff, to quarantine after those two main vacation periods,” Gacioch concluded.

Multiple panel members support distributing a survey to students once they return back to school in-person as part of the hybrid model. Additionally, as more students return to school in-person, the panel said that it would be vital to compare the rates of COVID cases between remote and hybrid students.

“A lot of times there are things that are good ideas but have so many obstacles and so much work to get there.” Kleckner said, “With everybody’s persistence and hard work, we’ve been able to accomplish many of our goals.”