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Testing to be required for unvaccinated athletes, coaches in Guilford County Schools beginning Tuesday

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GREENSBORO — Unvaccinated student-athletes and coaches at Guilford County Schools will be tested for COVID-19 starting Tuesday, according to a page posted on the district's website and a letter sent to parents.

The tests, which were approved by the Guilford County Board of Education during the summer but had not been implemented, will be administered Tuesdays and Thursdays at each high school. Unvaccinated students will also be required to take the tests to participate in other extracurricular activities. Vaccinated students and those who have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past 90 days will not.

Testing for middle school students in GCS will begin Feb. 2 on a schedule that has yet to be announced. There is no charge to students or coaches for testing.

GCS has posted a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on its website that addresses the testing in greater detail.

Rockingham County Schools and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools do not require COVID-19 testing for students to participate in extracurricular activities. The GCS website says testing is being implemented because "Research from the ABC Science Collaborative and other public health experts suggests that in-school spread of COVID-19 is low, but much higher when students are participating in athletics and high-risk extracurricular activities, such as chorus." Another factor is the rise in reported cases because of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Guilford County Schools officials could not say how much the testing will cost or how many students will be tested initially.

The timing of the start of testing could pose additional challenges for athletics teams already dealing with scheduling issues caused by weather postponements. There is also an acute shortage of bus drivers because of the pandemic that has forced some coaches and teachers to drive routes. Students at eight GCS high schools are being asked to use public transit or provide their own transportation.

Janson Silvers, media relations specialist for GCS, wrote in an email Monday afternoon that testing will begin Tuesday because "this is when we were able to coordinate with the (N.C. Department of Health and Human Services) vendors to provide the testing."

The tests will be required for any unvaccinated in-season athletes or coaches to participate in sports. The Guilford County Division of Public Health will conduct voluntary in-school testing for high school students and staff members (including individuals involved in athletics and extracurriculars) who have symptoms or who have a known exposure to someone with COVID-19. 

GCS requires parental consent to administer COVID-19 testing for students, and forms must be completed before a first test is administered. The forms are available at each school or on the GCS website. Parents or guardians have the right to withdraw consent for testing at any time, but if they do so the student will not be permitted to participate in athletics or extracurricular activities sponsored by the school.

Each student will be administered an antigen test and a PCR test on each testing date by one of two state-contracted vendors, either Healthcare Business Reps (HBR) or StarMed Healthcare. Results of the antigen tests should be available within 15 to 20 minutes, while results of PCR tests should be available in 24 to 72 hours.

If a student tests positive for COVID-19 and is at school, the student will be taken to the school’s isolation room, and an administrator will share that result only with individuals who need to know that information in order to conduct contact tracing. Students not at school will be contacted by an administrator. "Otherwise, the test results will be kept entirely confidential," the school district's website says.

Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 must isolate for five days from the date the positive test sample was collected, if they do not develop COVID-19 symptoms. If they test positive and develop symptoms, the return date is five days after the first date of symptoms as long as the student has been without a fever for 24 hours and other symptoms are improving. Based on NCDHHS guidance, the protocols are the same regardless of the vaccination status of the person who has tested positive.

If anyone who is required to participate in testing because they are unvaccinated misses a test, they will not be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities until they have documented proof of a negative test. A negative home test result is not sufficient, according to GCS guidelines.

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