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ArlingtonCounty Board members critical of APS COVID-testing requirements

County Board members critical of APS COVID-testing requirements

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Is the Arlington school system inadvertently encouraging parents to not report COVID-like symptoms among students?

That’s the concern of a number of County Board members, who say the current testing requirements make it more likely parents will stay mum rather than go to the hassle of getting their children checked out.

County Board Vice Chairman Christian Dorsey noted May 17 that the school system currently does not accept negative at-home tests to allow students back in classrooms after parents report COVID-like symptoms (which could at this time of year just as easily be pollen-infused sniffles).

Instead, parents who want a quick turnaround need to travel to one of two government-run sites to get free, professionally administered tests with results available in a few hours.

Dorsey said that, faced with bureaucratic hurdles, parents are likely to not let the school system know of their child’s condition in the first place, so they can avoid testing altogether.

“We are actually not encouraging people to do the right thing, by making it so onerous and difficult,” said Dorsey, his exasperated tone suggesting he was speaking from personal experience.

Dorsey encouraged County Manager Mark Schwartz to use “any influence [with school leaders] you might have to create something better.”

(Earlier in the meeting, Schwartz had noted that he’d taken a COVID test after experiencing mild pandemic-like symptoms. The verdict? Spring allergies.)

With at-home COVID tests being passed out these days more often than doobies at an eighth-grader’s slumber party – our words, not his – Dorsey suggested it was counterproductive not to allow use of at-home tests to meet school requirements.

Board colleague Takis Karantonis then weighed in on the other side of the issue; in retrospect, he may have wished he had not.

“That’s not the same,” Karantonis said of the efficacy of at-home tests.

“I recognize that,” shot back Dorsey, who intimated maybe Karantonis then should be the one to “tell a parent of a kid with the sniffles – that they know is an allergy – that they have to figure out how to take them to one of two locations and wait two hours [for test results] before they can go to school. It’s a big deal.”

“Yes it is. I’m not doubting that,” said Karantonis, by this point in a hasty retreat.

Karantonis suggested, however, that the answer may lie in making more locations available for fast-turnaround, professionally administered tests.

County Board Chairman Katie Cristol, in turn, was having none of that.

“It would be more helpful if we could follow through on Mr. Dorsey’s suggestion of using the at-home tests, which are more readily available,” she countered.

Case rates of COVID have been on the rise since March, leading the county school system in mid-May to “strongly recommend” that students again begin using masks indoors.

For their own part, County Board members seem to be taking the caseload bump-up in stride – most on the dais were mask-free for either all or part of the May 14 and May 17 board meetings.

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