Beginning in May 2021, Pattonville School District participated in the Safe Return to School research project conducted by Washington University to assess COVID-19 testing strategies in K-12 schools. The focus of the study was to determine whether the level of COVID-19 cases was less in schools that utilized weekly screening testing. The project lasted through the 2021-2022 school year. Findings from the study were released this month and showed that there did not appear to be a difference in positivity rate in schools with or without a weekly COVID-19 screening test requirement. Infectious diseases expert Dr. Jason Newland, who served as Pattonville’s liaison with the program, presented the findings in a recording available to the community.
Five school districts participated in the project: Pattonville, Ferguson-Florissant, Jennings, the Normandy Schools Collaborative and University City. In Pattonville, the study included weekly drive-up testing for anyone residing in these districts who were symptomatic as well as in-school testing that was done weekly regardless of symptoms. The in-school testing was conducted on a voluntary basis at Pattonville Heights Middle School and Pattonville High School. Of the participating districts, Pattonville contributed nearly 22% of the tests completed through the drive-up program and about 40% of the in-school screening tests.
In addition to findings that showed there was no correlation between positivity rates and in-school testing requirements, the study looked at the social, emotional and behavioral impact of the pandemic. Through interviews with 120 people from all five districts, including parents, students and staff, discussion found that, while the study showed there wasn’t an impact on positivity rates, there was a perception that weekly in-person testing led to lower transmission rates and provided reassurance that transmission was less likely to occur between school and home.
Throughout the pandemic, Pattonville has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to investigate and demonstrate the safety of attending school during the COVID-19 pandemic. In December 2020, the CDC began work with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), Saint Louis University and Washington University to study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in U.S. schools, including transmission and mitigation strategies. Pattonville partnered with the CDC on the project as a way to help assess the district’s COVID-19 prevention strategies. Results showed that in-school transmission of COVID-19 is rare when mitigation strategies are in place. The project involved in-depth COVID-19 cases and contact investigations of students and staff on a voluntary basis. As part of the project, saliva-based testing from Washington University was offered to those who were identified as close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case. Like the recently completed study, participation was entirely voluntary, and all health information remained confidential. This study demonstrated that in-school transmission of COVID-19 is rare when mitigation strategies are in place. Additionally, it showed that three feet of distance between people in classrooms was safe with the other mitigation strategies (eg. masks) in place.