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State switch delays pooled testing, affecting Gibbs

Covid-19 imageCorporate-testing shareholders may have more sway.

The following was written by Jessica von Goeler, a Gibbs parent who is a master scheduler at a gene-therapy manufacturing facility.

 Families across Arlington are getting ready to send their kids back to school Thursday, Sept. 9. It's exciting and feels a bit more like normal. Yet corporate-testing shareholders may have more influence on children's health than parents this year.

“It’s really worrisome that private testing contracts have become paramount over keeping our kids safe. Our children’s welfare shouldn’t be nickel-and-dimed,” said John von Goeler, Jessica's husband.

With less than a month before school starting, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) announced a new no-cost testing program that required the use of CIC Health over district-preferred testing vendors. While districts could move forward with their vendor of choice, it would become the district's responsibility to pay for pooled testing, potentially driving the Arlington school budget into turmoil.

Co-founded by Timothy Rowe, CEO of the Cambridge Innovation Center, and prominent Brigham and Women's surgeon Atul Gawande, CIC Health was started in June 2020, four months into the pandemic. Seven months later, on Jan. 12, Gov. Baker opened the state's first mass vaccination site, at Gillette Stadium, operated by CIC Health. CIC Health is now the largest Covid-19 service provider in the country and is testing more than 34.3 million students per week.

The new requirement upended the district’s plans weeks before the start of school. “[F]ollowing being told we needed to use the state’s contract with CIC, we were required to adjust all of our planning in order to be able to launch testing under a new provider,” Superintendent Liz Homan told YourArlington on Sept. 7.

Plans were quickly altered, forms were updated and materials were ordered to accommodate the state's vendor. Then the Arlington Public Schools found out Labor Day that materials will not be delivered until Monday, Sept. 13.

Unlike the elementary schools with inherently strict cohorts and upper grades with high vaccination rates, Gibbs students are in a precarious position when it comes to testing delays. By the nature of Arlington Public School age requirements for school, very few children entering sixth grade are eligible for vaccination at the start of school.    

With a value statement focused on cost-effective testing solutions for schools, this shouldn't be a surprise. This has delayed testing into the second week of school.

John von Goeler responded: “We’ve had to rethink our back-to-school plans for our incoming sixth grader. Sixth-grade students have highly mobile schedules that interface with 100 other students a day. Exposure at that level needs to be monitored from day one.”

The district jumped through every hoop and is ready to start testing on Thursday. “Thanks to the hard work of our team, we have been able to accomplish a quick adjustment to CIC,” Homan said.

The delays immediately affecting school children are clearly with CIC Health and their relationship with the state.

11th-hour good news: As to timing, Homan noted in a Sept. 8 email to YourArlington: “I just heard that Representative Garballey has helped us speed up the timeline on supply arrival, so we will likely be able to get up and running sooner than I projected last night.” The specific timeline is not yet known.

September 2021: Ongoing reports of Covid statistics in Arlington

This viewpoint based on factual news sources was published Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. These sources are CIC Health, reported by The Boston Globe, and CIC and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on pooled testing

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