| Fort Myers News-Press
A back-up plan for how the Lee County School District’s COVID-19 testing program will be funded is headed to the school board for approval Tuesday.
In November, the district signed onto a three-agency contract to use up the 2,000 rapid COVID-19 tests it received for free from the state. The tests are offered to students and employees who agree to be tested after showing at least three symptoms of the virus while on campus for in-person learning.
For the project, the county would contribute up to $250,000 of its federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to cover the mileage and labor costs for a COVID-19 Response Team from Golisano Children’s Hospital.
Staff with Lee Health are sent to campuses three days a week to conduct the nasal swab-based test because school nurses do not carry the certification required to administer the tests.
The county’s CARES Act funding was set to expire at the end of 2020, but the dollars were “extended by the federal government” while the schools were on winter break, explained Lauren Stillwell, chief of staff for the district.
The district and Lee Health will check back with the county to see “whether or not they would go ahead and extend that agreement to continue funding that cost for us,” Stillwell told the board during a Monday afternoon workshop meeting.
According to the first line of the amendment, “The parties anticipate that the county will continue to fund the program.”
Tim Engstrom, a spokesman for the county, reported in an email that “the county is working with the school district to extend the agreement to utilize the previously allocated funding.”
However, at the advice of the board’s attorney a back-up plan was drawn up.
The district would lean into its own CARES Act funding if it needs to pick up the tab. The funding expires in June 2022, explained Ami Desamours, the district’s chief finance officer.
According to the amendment, the costs for administering about 30 tests, three days a week is $320,000.
Prior to winter break, the tests were available to students and employees for 11 days. During that time, about 200 tests were administered at a cost of $26,500, Stillwell said.
Betsy Vaughn, the vice chair of the school board, asked the response from parents when they are offered the chance to test their child while at school.
Stillwell responded that is has been a “mixed bag.”
“A lot of them are greeting us with, ‘Yes, let’s do it,’ but some of the hesitation is that parents don’t want to wait for the Golisano team to get to the school,” he said. “They just want to go get their kid and leave.”
Others would rather their pediatrician or normal healthcare provider administer the tests.
“And then we have had some that have said that they don’t want to have the test because of the ramifications that might go with it if the student tests positive,” Stillwell said. “They would rather just keep their child home or go to their own pediatrician to try to get them a note to come back early…”