Atlanta Public Schools launches mandatory COVID-19 surveillance testing for teachers, staff

Thursdays now begin with swabs for the 80 teachers and staff at William J. Scott Elementary School in Northwest Atlanta.

Twice a week, they line up for COVID-19 rapid antigen tests, which can detect an infection in about 15 minutes.

Principal Langston Longley is usually one of the first in line.

A Black man wearing glasses closes his eyes as a woman in a headscarf inserts a COVID-19 testing swab into his nose.

A staff member is tested for COVID-19 at William J. Scott Elementary School in Atlanta on September 9, 2021. (Eli Jordan FOX 5 Atlanta)

He says the mandatory testing program, which launched earlier this week, is going well.

"I think it has really been a gamechanger for us," Langston says. "Teachers getting tested and wearing masks has helped us stay in school.  We haven't had to close for any days. We have had individual quarantines, but I think it's really been a difference-maker for us."

Scott Elementary's 325 students are too young to be eligible for COVID 19 shots. So, Longley believes the rapid tests, which can detect mild or asymptomatic infections in 15 minutes, are critical.

"It lowers anxiety," he says. "And, we're an elementary school. So, our students aren't vaccinated. There are no vaccinated students here, but we've got hundreds of people in one space. So, we've got to do whatever measures we can to make sure people are safe."

Kindergarten teacher Charteva Cook is fully vaccinated.

A woman in a headscarf inserts a nasal swab into another woman's nose.

A staff member is tested for COVID-19 at William J. Scott Elementary School in Atlanta on September 9, 2021.

Still, Cook says, the testing helps her feel more comfortable about being back in the classroom with her young students.

"I love it, because it gives us the security to know that we're not bringing the virus in to the students, or not getting it from them and taking it home to our families," Cook says. "If if it wasn't in place, I don't know if I would have the security to feel safe to come into my classroom and really teach every day."

Students get tested every Monday on a voluntary basis, with the testing teams going from room to room at the school.

"All the kids, who have given consent, we'll pull them into the hallway, they'll get swabbed with a quick test, and they they'll have the opportunity to go back," Longley says. "So, it really doesn't interrupt their instructions at all.  Students may be out of class for minute, total."

And fifth-grader Alyssa Delal, whose family has opted for her to get a weekly test, says it is not that bad.

"They just get a swab and they circle it around the center of your nose, not all the way up, but like mid-term." Delal says.

She says the swam is not uncomfortable.

"It just tickles a bit," Delal says.

If a student or staff member tests positive, they are sent home to isolate for 10 days.

This week, four students from Scott Elementary are at home. Two tested positive for the virus and two were exposed to someone infected at school.  

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