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Rendezvous Upper Elementary serves as pilot project for COVID-testing

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DRIGGS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - On October 19, Kristin Weston, principal of Rendezvous Upper Elementary School in Driggs, announced to her staff that they have the chance to participate in a pilot testing project in partnership with Teton Valley Health.

The project started Thursday, October 22, and every RUES staff member was presented the opportunity to be voluntarily tested for coronavirus every week for the next 10 weeks. All testing is free of charge to the staff member.

Principal Weston says the project has been well-received at her school and all of the feedback she has heard from staff is positive. She says the testing offers an extra level of safety and precaution to help her staff feel comfortable in the classroom.

“They have been showing up since the beginning of the year and are continuing to do so and this is just an extra measure, I believe, in precaution and the safety of our staff and students,” Principal Weston said.

Keith Gnagey, CEO of Teton Valley Health, and Teton School District 401 Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme selected Rendezvous for the pilot because of the size of its staff (33 individuals) and its proximity to the hospital – right across the street.

COVID-19 testing is typically recommended once an individual is showing symptoms. The purpose of the pilot program is to test school staff members who may be asymptomatic but still spreading the virus within the school.

“With this program, we’re trying to look at people who don’t have symptoms yet, might have COVID, and by testing once a week, we hope to identify them sooner,” Gnagey said.

The testing is an inner-nose nasal swab, takes place in a private location on school grounds, and will be done by TVH personnel at a specific time only. Results will be available later that same day. TVH staff are using rapid result testing and can have the result within 15 minutes. With such a large number of tests, most staff received their results within an hour.

Gnagey says of the 33 individuals who could be tested, 21 staff members participated in the free COVID-19 testing last week. All 21 staff members came back negative.

Principal Weston says there have been 3 positive cases within Rendezvous Upper Elementary School so far this year and 40 students quarantined throughout the year. Today, she says there are 2 students being quarantined.

The project may help slow the spread of COVID-19 by identifying potential cases. It will also help establish a testing process and provide data and insight to Teton Valley Health.

“We want to work with the principals of the schools and the superintendent and identify other groups we can do the same type of testing on,” Gnagey said. “If we’re testing more groups, we should be able to slow the spread and that’s our goal.”

Gnagey says they are hoping to expand staff testing to other schools within the district.

“At the moment, it’s school focused,” Gnagey said. “Schools are our primary focus because I think everyone agrees, we want them to be open. We want to do everything we can to keep them open and this is one thing we can do.”

The pilot project is intended to enable the hospital to eventually roll this kind of testing out to groups at other TSD 401 schools. There are 7 schools within the district. The purpose is to offer another level of safety in helping ensure the health and safety of staff, students, and local families.

“The primary goal, I believe, for all schools in our district are to stay open and to make that as safe as possible for all students and staff so that we can focus on the task at hand, which is the reason why we’re here, is for students to learn and thrive and create an environment in which everyone is safe to do so,” Principal Weston said. “So hopefully this is that extra measure that gives people the confidence in moving forward.”

Gnagey says he hopes other hospitals and schools across the state will look into their testing capabilities to determine if they can duplicate this project in their own districts in an effort to keep Idaho’s kids in school.

“School District 401 and probably a lot of districts have gone through the same questioning of how to stay in-person learning and how to make things safe and accessible for students and just speaking for my own school, I am proud of the efforts that all of the teachers have made,” Principal Weston said, “They show up everyday and have made the best of what otherwise were uncertain circumstances and that has continued throughout the district with the support of continued leadership. It is a pandemic, we’re figuring things out as we go and it hasn’t been perfect but we are all together. We’re here, we’re in-person, we’re moving forward, and our students are finding their groove and settling back into a routine and finding a place where they can flourish and continue learning, which is obviously the goal. So I really am proud of all of our teachers in our district. It has been a heavy lift and they’re doing the job.”

Gnagey says Teton Valley Health has 13 beds in total and one of them is filled with a COVID-19 positive patient. He says they have administered over 1,200 tests and the positivity rate of those tests is at roughly 11%.

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus Coverage

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Chelsea Briar

Chelsea is a reporter and producer for Local News 8 and KIDK Eyewitness News 3.


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