COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Pictured is one of the boxes of COVID-19 self-tests the St. Joseph County ISD received to distribute to local school districts as part of a “MI Backpack Home Tests” program from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

ISD receives thousands of COVID test kits for schools

More than 16k delivered from MDHHS, half already sent to local school districts

CENTREVILLE — In the ongoing fight to combat COVID-19, having testing kits available in schools for both students and staff have become increasingly critical as case numbers continue to rise due to the Omicron variant.

The St. Joseph County ISD has been on the front lines of getting test kits to local school districts, having received more than 16,000 Abbott BinaxNow rapid antigen test kits from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services just before winter break.

ISD Superintendent Teresa Belote discussed the influx of tests that came in and how distribution has gone during the ISD Board of Education’s Monday meeting. The tests were distributed as part of the “MI Backpack Home Tests” initiative by MDHHS, which allows parents, students, and staff in local school districts to sign up to take home COVID-19 test kits. The initiative began in November, and the tests are available for free at a number of local school districts in St. Joseph County.

Belote said when the ISD signed up to be a part of it, she wasn’t expecting to receive what she estimated to be “16,000 to 18,000” test kits, but rather just enough for the ISD themselves.

“Surprisingly, they didn’t ask me how many we wanted when we opted in. I would’ve taken about 1,000, thinking that would’ve been a big number for us. Approximately 16,000 to 18,000 showed up, depending on if I missed a skid,” Belote said.

She said about half of their allocation has been distributed to nearly all nine school districts in St. Joseph County and offered to all of them, with some more expecting to be distributed to Coldwater schools and the Van Buren ISD.

“We’re hoping to make sure everyone has them and have the basement cleared out by spring,” Belote said. “I’ve contacted every local school, I’ve talked to superintendents and a lot of them have opted in and picked some up. They’re all aware. I made the announcement at the tri-county health department meeting and sent it out to our regional ISD superintendents.”

Board Chair Elizabeth O’Dell said it’s important for families with schoolchildren in the area to know school districts have COVID tests available.

“If our parents in our nine districts know there are free kits that each school can have, and to ask their school, not the ISD, but go to their schools and ask the school if they can have the kit … we have those available for free. The schools do,” O’Dell said.

“If we can please let parents know, rather than going to a pharmacy and paying $39 to $69, we have those available for free,” O’Dell continued. “It’ll help us to make sure we don’t have another closure because people didn’t know.”

Belote said she anticipates getting all of the tests out by the first week of February.

In an interview following the meeting, Belote said the intent of the program is to keep schools open and have tests available for those that need it.

“We’re trying to reduce the spread of COVID to keep schools open, which is why we decided to opt in. Anything that keeps us in person is a benefit,” Belote said.

She said she doesn’t anticipate having a lot of tests left over, but said if there are leftover tests, she would ask MDHHS to “redeploy” them to other areas of need.

Because the ISD received so many tests to distribute to local school districts, Belote said it’s been a benefit to the schools.

“I think it’s actually got them in hands of schools quicker, so I’m okay with it,” Belote said. “Even though I didn’t anticipate us being the hub for that, we can call superintendent to superintendent. That type of thing will keep happening, I think.”

In other business…

  • The board approved a couple of board policy additions, including a policy adoption for temporary Head Start vaccination and mask requirements for employees. The Head Start policy keeps them in line with federal requirements, as Head Start is a federally-funded program.
  • The board heard a presentation on the Pathfinder Center’s academic report for 2020-2021. More on that presentation will be in the Wednesday, Jan. 19 edition of the Commercial-News.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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