Why distributing free, at-home tests for families is easier said than done


NORTH BABYLON, N.Y. — A key part of New York State’s strategy to keep COVID-19 from spreading in schools and among families with school-age children is to send free testing kits to local school districts. Two districts on Long Island on Wednesday showed that acquiring and distributing the kits was a major challenge, which they met, but it was easier said than done.

“If you imagine yourself at the bottom of a waterfall, with your mouth open,” said Dr. Shari Camhi, superintendent of the Baldwin School District, “that’s what it feels like.”

She was talking about the long list of challenges that she and the leaders of other school districts face as they try to get tests into the hands of the families they serve, and abide by federal, state, and local guidelines.

Kim Skillen, the assistant superintendent in North Babylon, elaborated on the hurdles they had to overcome.

“So the governor announced in the middle of the week last week that she’d be distributing tests to us,” Skillen said.  “Of course, we were on vacation.”

Camhi talked about what ended up happening.  

“Between Monday morning and [Tuesday], we had to put together a plan to serve 4,500 students.”

That involved hours and hours of planning, which resulted in a drive-through system in the Baldwin school district, during the day on Wednesday.

In North Babylon, which also has 4,500 students, school leaders devised a walk-in process for families on Wednesday evening.  

In both places, there were long lines, but they the school leaders were able to reach nearly all of the families in their districts, and direct them to pick up the COVID tests — two tests per pack — provided by New York State, free of charge.

“We know right now it is nearly impossible to get in right away to get a rapid or PCR test,” Skillen said.

It’s why her district, as well as Baldwin and others, are now fighting another battle.

“We’ve seen some social media posts where they’re ending up online for re-sale,” Skillen said, adding that there’s no evidence that it’s likely to happen in North Babylon or Baldwin.

Still, she said, they have to warn families. 

More important, both superintendents said, is ensuring that families are fully involved in the process to stay safe from the virus.  

“We’re relying on parents to use the test,” Skillen said, “[and] be honest with us about what’s going on.”

The school districts still want students who are symptomatic to stay home until the symptoms go away, even if they test negative. The districts also said that they keep getting different guidance about testing from the CDC, the state and county health leaders, but still have to press on.

For example, the tests they received are marked with expiration dates at the end of January 2022 — three-and-a-half weeks away.

However, Skillen said they have “received notice from the FDA that they’ve extended the expiration until April.”

She called that a favorable last-minute change, but there are many more of which it’s hard to keep track, she said.

For their part, virtually every parent who spoke with PIX11 News said they appreciate the efforts that the school districts have made.

“My wife’s a teacher in Brooklyn,” Steven Ellis said, as he drove out from the drive-through test pickup location in Baldwin. “Things are not going as well [there] as they are out here.”

Liz Melvin said that she has students in the Baldwin district from elementary to high school. She lives near the drive-through pickup point, and pointed out that she was accommodated without having to be in her car.

“This is so easy. I’m shocked,” she said.

The schools also have pickup plans in place for later in the week for families that were not able receive their test kits on Wednesday.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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