Well this wasn’t the most exciting press conference. Just going to hit the high points.
Mayor Strickland started off. Said that the CARES Act allocated $12 million to the city for enhanced COVID-19 testing. Of that, City Council allocated $2 million for a pilot program for pooled testing. Pooled testing means you test multiple samples for the virus at one time, and if they all come back negative, individual sample tests are not needed. This has the potential to increase capacity, allow more asymptomatic people to be tested, and reduce costs.
A testing committee that meets 3 times a week was created. City employees were tested first, and after that program proved successful, it was expanded to include schools open for in-person learning, with the capacity to test 4000 students and teachers per day.
Strickland said he wanted to be clear that the COVID-19 task force is not recommending in-person learning at this point in time; however, for those schools and districts that adopt in-person learning, the expanded, pooled testing is one more tool that is available.
There were several followup questions on this topic. In response to one, Strickland said the $2 million pilot program is limited to testing within the city limits, but they hope to build best practices that can be replicated countywide.
Strickland was asked if there is a plan to maintain testing infrastructure beyond the expiration of spending CARES money on December 31. Strickland said, nothing definite yet, but they are looking to see if the stimulus package currently in Congress contains additional funding.
Strickland emphasized that the in-school testing will be for asymptomatic people only. That is because the tests will be administered at schools. If your child is sick, you shouldn’t send them there and should instead take advantage of external testing for the symptomatic. Same goes for teachers, who shouldn’t be coming to work sick.
Tiffany Collins, deputy director of general services for the city, said that kids as young as 2 went through the pilot testing programs, and the tests were more well-received than expected. Tests were administered by third-party medical professionals.
David Sweat of the Health Department said that with 8000 slots this week, if you want to be tested, you probably will be able to call one of the local testing sites and get in, even if asymptomatic. They prioritize those who have symptoms and/or have been exposed when testing is tight, but there should be enough testing to expand beyond that this week.
Sweat said we are down to an average of 256 new cases/day. (180 is the threshold to reopen limited service restaurants)
Dr. Bruce Randolph, Health Officer, reiterated comments that the Health Department will be happy to advise on schools’ plans to return to contact sports, but is not in the business of approving or disapproving plans.
Again shocked there were no questions about the trip wires in Health Directive No. 10. Back in the morning with more news.