Synergy Launches On-Site COVID-19 Testing

Early Monday morning, February 1st, a few students and staff started queueing up on the sunny sidewalk outside the school building.  “Have you ever picked your nose?” asked Becky Barmore, school secretary, of the students waiting in line.  “This test is kind of like that. They’re going to take a Q-Tip and stick it a little up your nose and collect your snot.” Not surprisingly, a majority of students admitted to being familiar with nose-picking; however, some kids were a little nervous about someone else doing the procedure on them. 

After students checked-in at the front, they were called over by a nurse who introduced herself and let them know what to expect and then asked them to lower their mask and look up. A minute later, the job was done, their mask pulled up, and students grabbed a cool eraser or pencil from Kindergarten Teacher and Administrator Tanya Baker as they bounced out the door.  Baker said, “For many of our kiddos, this was their first time getting a COVID test. Thank goodness Synergy is a second home and a safe space.  Some squirmed and some giggled as they stood bravely for the test.  Everyone was a part of ensuring that our community is as safe as possible as we return to the building.”

“How was it?” asked teacher Jana Barber, who was waiting to walk the kids back out to their parents. Most students offered responses like “it tickled”, “it made my eyes water”, or “it was no big deal.”  

Within 30 minutes of getting tested, staff and parents received text messages or emails notifying them of their results. Parent Ruth Kurtz said, “The test was fast and painless. Already received the (negative) results. Thanks for keeping our community safe!”

In two days, Synergy School, partnering with Bay Area PLS testing service, provided testing for 161 students and 24 staff, which was 100% of all the students and staff who were planning to return to in-person instruction. Encouragingly, everyone tested negative for COVID-19. This put our school community in a positive frame of mind for coming back to the classroom.Parent Marcin Kowanetz said, “Thank you for organizing COVID testing for students! It’s a fantastic idea to ensure kids and everyone is safe!” 

The rapid antigen test kits for COVID-19 were provided free of charge to Synergy School by the San Francisco Department of Public Health as part of their program to pilot community testing. Staff are required to test twice weekly, and the school is aiming to test students on a regular basis, with a frequency to be determined by SFDPH. Librarian Susanne DeRisi, who led the push to implement the rapid antigen testing pilot says, “Synergy’s strong sense of community, trust, and teamwork was key in getting this program running so quickly and successfully.” 

The school is looking forward to phase two, in which members of the Synergy staff will be administering the on-site testing. The California Department of Public Health has accepted Synergy School into its program for COVID-19 Antigen Testing in K-12 Schools. In preparation, a group of staff members have been training under the guidance of parent Dr. Joe DeRisi, UCSF and Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, and parent and school board member Dr.Arash Anoshiravani, Stanford University, to learn about the principles of rapid antigen testing, the recent research data about its usefulness for testing, the protocol for running and reading the tests, and the proper use of PPE. Joe DeRisi said, “By implementing this program, Synergy is a pioneer among San Francisco schools. Rapid testing can help us open our schools and make our communities a safer place.”

*Read this additional article on Synergy’s testing site written by the Mission Local Newspaper on 2/20/21

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