Local schools await COVID kits from state as families scramble to test students

Local News

STOCKTON, Calif. (KTXL) — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise due to the omicron variant, local school districts have been urging parents to get kids tested before they return to school, some with only days’ notice.

Thousands of parents received an announcement from the Stockton Unified School District Sunday evening asking parents to get their students tested before Tuesday. The district said the testing isn’t mandatory but would be helpful to keep campuses safe. 

“Just adequate timing would have been better,” said Thaddeus Smith III, who has a daughter in first grade. 

Smith said he feels the district should have given parents more than 48-hours notice to get their kids tested or the tests should have been provided to families ahead of time.

“Just keeping parents and guardians notified of, you know, of next steps, giving appropriate time for families to make decisions, that’s key,” Smith told FOX40.

Melinda Meza, a spokeswoman for SUSD, said she understands parents’ frustrations, but she said the district is doing what it can to keep students and staff safe. 

“We have to be very careful,” Meza said. “We want our students in the classroom. We want to give them that ability to learn and to have that hands-on instruction, but we also have to be very safe and cautious during this time.”

She stressed that the notice is a request and not a requirement. 

“It’s just being advised for your own family’s safety to test because, you know, there’s been the holidays and travel and such. But it’s not a mandate,” Meza said. 

Students who test positive will have to follow the same protocols that have been in place, and masks still have to be worn by everyone indoors. 

“It’s due diligence on, you know, reminding people to do their best to stay healthy and to protect others,” Meza said. 

Consumnes Oaks High School also doesn’t head back to class until Tuesday. Still, by 7:30 a.m. Monday, a line began to stretch through campus. 

Elk Grove Unified School District families were using the school’s COVID-19 testing facility as they prepared to send kids back to class.

“We got an email last Thursday and it just kind of indicated that it’s preferred that the kids get tested before going back to school because the numbers have increased,” said parent Ha Le Dao. “So I’m just doing my part.”

However, Le Dao said saw some shortfalls in the options offered. Elk Grove Unified’s 11 testing sites, including all district high schools, reopened Monday for the first time since Dec. 30. 

Sacramento County also alerted residents last week that there was a shortage of COVID-19 antigen, or rapid, tests. The county said it expects the next shipment of antigen tests to come in Monday or Tuesday.

When FOX40 asked the Sacramento County Department of Public Health about a possible shortage last week, they responded by saying the demand was high but supplies were available.

EGUSD test sites offer rapid tests to staff and children with symptoms and PCR tests for everyone else, which typically take 24 to 72 hours. That would not give enough time for people who rely on those sites to have a guaranteed test result before school starts. 

“My concern is I don’t know the results of my daughter, so do I still send her to school or not?” Le Dao questioned.

Senior Apollo Guintu and his sister start school in the district Tuesday. Even though they arrived within a half-hour of the testing center opening, they had more than an hour and a half wait.

”Having them send them home with us instead of us coming here early in the morning would be nice,” Guintu said.

He said he was already planning to be tested before the district recommended it. 

An EGUSD spokesperson said they have kept families up to date on a variety of testing options to meet their needs and demand. 

They plan to distribute take-home COVID-19 tests when they receive them from the state.

Two weeks ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced California would be providing free, at-home tests for all students, but SUSD said they too have yet to get their kits.

“We haven’t received a timeline, but we’re checking daily because we did expect to have them by now, to be honest with you. And we’re hoping to get them very soon so we could offer those to our families,” Meza said. “They’re very simple, they’re free, and it’s something that our students really deserve.” 

Smith said the state dropped the ball not getting those tests out to all school districts over the winter break. 

“We need them immediately. There’s no excuse whatsoever and I have seen it been happening at other school districts, you know, other states,” Smith said. “Like, why can’t it happen here in California as soon or sooner than what is actually happening?”

FOX40 reached out to the governor’s office asking about the tests but has yet to hear back. 

Sacramento County is experiencing a major spike in COVID-19 cases, reporting the highest number of daily cases (1,872) and the highest seven-day average case rate (72.4) since the start of the pandemic. As of Monday, San Joaquin County reported its seven-day case rate at 21.2 per 100,000.

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