The second semester of school has gotten underway for Valencia County students, and district nurses are making sure staff and students are following COVID-19 mitigation measures.

At a recent Los Lunas Schools Board of Education meeting, Jacqueline Kelly-Romero, the charge nurse for LLS, gave a presentation to the board about how the test-to-stay program has been implemented throughout the district to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“The main goal is we want to do everything to keep our students in school in the safest manner possible, both for the health and safety, obviously for the close contacts identified, but for the entire school community,” Kelly-Romero told board members during the Jan. 18 meeting.

On Jan. 12, the New Mexico Public Education Department updated its COVID-19 Toolkit, which included the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced recommended quarantine time for those who test positive with the virus.

According to PED guidelines, fully-vaccinated staff and students are not required to self-isolate the recommended five days following a close contact notification.

Only those who have a close contact while in a school setting, who are not fully vaccinated and have not tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days can opt into the test to stay program.

“If they are fully vaccinated — Pfizer is the only vaccine type that has been approved under emergency use on authorization though the FDA — in that case if they are fully vaccinated, they are not required to quarantine if they are a close contact,” Kelly-Romero clarified. “The caveat to that is they have to be asymptomatic.”

The program uses rapid antigen tests to test unvaccinated close contacts on days one, three and five following the close contact. Kelly-Romero said according to research done by the CDC, three alternating antigen tests is nearly as reliable as a single PCR test, which is widely considered the gold-standard for COVID-19 testing.

“A positive is always a positive regardless of the test type,” Kelly-Romero said when questioned about the possibility of a false positive. “The particular type of rapid antigen that PMG is using is pretty close, it’s accurate.”

Through the test-to-stay program, students are allowed to fully participate in all school activities included in-person learning, bus transportation and athletics.

The Los Lunas Schools district has partnered with Premier Medical Group to offer the on-site rapid tests.

Belen Consolidated Schools is also working with PMG for it’s test-to-stay program, said Deborah Baca, the health services coordinator for the district. PED’s November toolkit mandated districts offer the choice of rapid testing to students who have had close contact with a COVID-19 person at school as well as the traditional home quarantine.

At that time, the department hadn’t provided test kits to BCS or any other New Mexico school districts.

Baca said by the beginning of January, the kits were provided through PMG and, when classes began, the district was able to offer the test-to-stay option to students.

“We’ve been incredibly busy with the with the test-to-stay and doing symptomatic testing,” Baca said. “PMG staff goes to sites as needed for the test-to-stay. They haven’t needed to go to every school. They have mostly been at the high school and middle school due to the bigger populations.”

Baca said PMG is also providing symptomatic testing at the Teacher Resource Center, which has been a huge help to families and staff members.

“If we send a student home because they (have symptoms) or they don’t come in for that reason, right now getting a COVID test is a real challenge,” she said. “Parents are getting results in the same day. This is for students at BCS and staff as well. If staff has symptoms, we can send them right away rather than waiting three or four days.”

Parents can sign up to receive test results for their students via text, Baca said.

After a five-day shut down of in-person learning, School of Dreams Academy will fully roll out its test-to-stay program.

SODA Superintendent Michael Ogas said supplies to fully implement the program on campus were difficult to obtain, but they are ready to go full steam ahead beginning on Feb. 7.

“It took a while to get the tests in; the machines to do it, but we should be up and running by the 7th,” Ogas said.

Up until this point, Ogas said the school would send students and staff who needed to be tested to one of the centers, as needed, but the school is now also partnering with PMG and following the same guidelines as the other New Mexico school districts.

NMPED COVID Toolkit – Jan. 12, 2022

NMPED COVID Toolkit – Jan. 12, 2022

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.

Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.