Testing kept COVID-positive students out of Williamsville classrooms, superintendent says

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AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) – Rapid COVID-19 tests provided by New York State and distributed to school districts over the weekend were used to discover infections in asymptomatic students before they were scheduled to return to school from winter break, the superintendent of the Williamsville Central School District said Monday.

“We have gotten phone calls from parents and emails from parents where they went home, they tested their child (Sunday), and they ended up getting a positive test,” said Dr. Darren Brown-Hall. “The child was asymptomatic. The parent would have never known.

“That’s exactly how this is set up to work.”

Dr. Brown-Hall was unable to say exactly how many students were determined to have COVID as a result of the testing.

Out of about 9.200 testing kits provided to the school district, Brown-Hall says about 5,000 of them were handed out to families on Sunday, the day before winter break ended. Another 465 kits were handed out during a second distribution event on Monday, a district spokesperson said. A third distribution event was scheduled for Tuesday.

District officials are asking parents of infected students to inform the Erie County Department of Health.

About 65,000 of the testing kits were delivered to Erie 1 BOCES on Saturday. Those kits were distributed from BOCES to 19 school districts in Erie County, which were then responsible for getting them into the hands of parents and guardians.

The kits are being given to Buffalo Public Schools students this week, superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash told parents in a letter on Saturday.

“Each child will receive a free home COVID-19 rapid antigen test kit this week for your family’s use,” Cash wrote. “We are deeply appreciative to New York State Governor Kathy Hochul for the 31,000 rapid antigen COVID-19 test kits that we received today.”

Like Williamsville, the Amherst Central School District was able to distribute most of its testing kits to families on Sunday. A district spokesperson said about 2,000 for the nearly 3,000 kits they received were handed out that day.

Frontier Central School District Superintendent Christopher Swiatek said they handed out more than 1,800 kits on Sunday. More than 3,000 were left over, but Swiatek said, “We will be close to passing out all our tests by the end of the day (Monday).”

In the Maryvale Union Free School District, about 600 of the 2,100 kits were handed out on Sunday.

“I didn’t have any expectations,” Maryvale superintendent Joseph D’Angelo said. “I really didn’t know what to expect with how many people were willing to come or what the demand was. But I did not expect to hand out every single test (Sunday).”

A second distribution event was scheduled to take place late Monday afternoon in Maryvale.

Superintendents across the region said they would find use for any tests, which expire in February, that were left over.

“Given the availability of test kits around the county overall, there is a lot of demand for them,” D’Angelo said. “We’re definitely going to make sure that they’re used.”

“We are going to keep them right now to see how we can use them in the future,” Brown-Hall said. “We do have a meeting with the Erie County Department of Health, a virtual meeting, on Wednesday to discuss test-to-stay. So we’re going to see what the additional rapid tests may be used for after we finish our distribution.”

Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.

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