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Philanthropic group in talks to provide free COVID tests to St. Vrain teachers, staff

The effort by Gary Community Investments is to ensure classes will open on time and stay open even as the COVID-19 threat continues, said CEO Mike Johnston. 
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A Colorado philanthropic group is in talks with St. Vrain Valley School District to offer free COVID-19 testing to teachers and school staff members, a service it will provide to other Front Range school districts when classes resume in August.

The effort by Gary Community Investments is to ensure classes will open on time and stay open even as the COVID-19 threat continues, said CEO Mike Johnston. 

“We know for sure we wouldn’t let frontline nurses or firefighters back on duty without adequate protection,” Johnston said. “We want to put those same practices in place for teachers in the St. Vrain district. You probably wouldn’t get this same type of testing and follow-up work unless you were in the NBA.”

Gary Investment’s COVIDCHeck Colorado program fills the gap between high cost private testing for the virus symptoms and a week or 10-day wait for test results. School district employees should get results in 72 hours or less, Johnston said.

“We work with a number of small, independent labs that guarantee a quick turnaround time,” Johnston said. 

“We also know exactly how many teachers are coming in for tests so we can move around staff to prepare for that demand,” he added. “In other testing programs, you can open 16 lanes and you don’t know if 10 people are going to show up or 10,000.”  

St. Vrain Superintendent Don Haddad told school board members last month free testing would be offered as part of a broad-based plan to protect teachers and students from a COVID-19 outbreak. Teachers and students will be required to wear masks while at school and teachers will also be offered face shields and gowns if their classroom work calls for extra protection.

Teachers with preexisting conditions or who have family members with health conditions also can opt to teach in the district’s new online program that allows students and teachers to take classes at home, Haddad said.

The district will use a hybrid approach to teaching this year with elementary, middle and high school students alternating between in-person and online classes throughout the week. This will help cut class sizes almost in half and make it easier to adhere to social distancing requirements, according to the district.

St. Vrain officials say they are not ready to confirm Gary Community Investments’ COVIDCheck Colorado program will be provided in the district when school starts on Aug. 18.

“We are still finalizing  those details and do not have anything specific to share at this time,” said Kerri McDermid, district spokesperson.

Gary Community Investments is already partnering with four area school districts — Aurora, Mapleton, 27J and Westminster — to provide access to COVID-19 testing, symptom tracking and contact tracing to help them reopen this fall, Johnston said.

Teachers and staff will be provided a baseline COVID-19 test before they return to work, followed by ongoing testing once every two weeks, with additional chances to test anyone who presents symptoms throughout the school year, Johnston said.

By signing up for comprehensive testing and tracking of the virus, the participating school districts are showing teachers, parents and students how much they care about health and safety in the era of COVID-19, he said.

“... They are showing there is a plan and path forward that makes it possible for school communities to safely reopen and reengage in the quality teaching and learning that everyone desires, “ Johnston said.

District employees can sign up for an appointment to get tested at a designated site and should get results in 72 hours or less, he said. Those who test positive for COVID-19 will get a phone call from a telehealth provider who will offer support and guidance on self-isolation, Johnston said.

As required by law, all positive cases will be reported to local public health agencies and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Those who have been exposed to the virus will be notified to adhere to the state’s contact tracing protocol and health privacy practices, Johnston said.

COVIDCheck Colorado also has a mobile-friendly website so individuals, students and school staff members can regularly track and report symptoms. Select district personnel will have access to a HIPAA-compliant dashboard displaying their district’s test results and symptom data to help stop potential outbreaks.

“This will help keep students and teachers healthy as this outbreak unfolds,” said Johnston, a former educator in the Mapleton School District.

School superintendents whose districts have enrolled in COVIDCheck Colorado say it provides them with a key weapon to keep schools open and virus-free.

“Being able to test our employees twice a month gives us an important tool as we battle this pandemic and attempt to meet the needs of our children, their families and our community,” Pamela Swanson, superintendent of Westminster Public Schools, said in a statement.

Gary Community Investments includes the Delaware public benefit corporation known as the Gary Community Investments Co. and The Piton Foundation. The group invests in for-profit and philanthropic solutions for Colorado’s low-income children and their families, according to its website. 

It was founded by Denver oilman Sam Gary “with the belief that business and philanthropy can — and should — work together to create opportunities for those who need it the most,” according to its website.