Over 200,000 students are heading back to Sacramento County schools this January during a record-breaking COVID-19 surge due to the omicron variant, making COVID-19 testing access crucial.
But at-home tests are flying off shelves. Shari Richmond, 48, from Sacramento, said she had visited 10 different stores to no avail. When she tried to order one from Amazon, its expected delivery date was Jan 17 — long after her kids’ schools in the Sacramento City Unified School District began classes.
“Everybody in the house will have it and be over it by then,” she said. “I actually work at Amazon and people were ordering COVID-19 tests, like four or five of them at a time and sending them to people as Christmas gifts. Gift-wrapping a couple of COVID-19 tests.”
While 38,000 at-home COVID-19 tests went home with students from Sac City Unified before the holidays, it wasn’t enough for the entire district’s population, said the district’s spokesperson, Al Goldberg. Upwards of 40,000 students are enrolled in the district.
“Distribution was focused on ensuring that younger kids ineligible to receive the vaccine were prioritized,” he said via email.
Nearly 20,000 of those at-home tests were reported by Jan. 2, with around 500 students reporting positive results.
And many community COVID-19 testing sites have long lines. Richmond was in line with her kids for a COVID-19 test at Albert Einstein Middle School Monday afternoon.
“My daughter went to a clinic, she said they were in line for an hour and a half,” she said.
To ensure students get access to COVID-19 tests, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Dec. 22 that the California Department of Public Health would be distributing at-home test kits to K-12 students throughout the state.
Most of those tests, however, have not yet arrived.
CapRadio reached out to school districts in Sacramento County and the Sacramento County Office of Education to get more information on that initiative’s progress and what testing protocols and options look like for students heading back to school after winter break.
On the progress of at-home test distribution for students
The Sacramento County Office of Education received 213,000 tests from the state Jan. 4, with almost 170,000 tests going out to local school districts the same day, according to spokesperson Tim Herrera.
Unlike the majority of school districts in Sacramento County, Sac City Unified school districts received tests directly from the California Department of Public Health before its holiday break.
Xanthi Soriano, spokesperson for Elk Grove Unified, said that the district expects to have the tests to schools for distribution by the end of the week.
Herrera said larger school districts, such as Twin Rivers and Elk Grove, picked up their tests Tuesday, and the county office is making arrangements with smaller districts like Galt Elementary and Galt Union to get tests to them by Jan. 5.
Spokespeople from Folsom Cordova Unified and River Delta also said their districts expected the allotment of testing kits this week.
“Each district is independent, and so each will have their own process as to how they’re going to do things — one district may have a drive-through situation where families will come and pick up the tests, or they may just give them out to families at the end of the day,” Herrera said.
For example, San Juan Unified, which requested 40,000 at-home tests for its over 50,000 students according to spokesperson Raj Rai, will develop a distribution plan based on “need.”
Trent Allen, San Juan Unified’s chief of staff, said that students will be sent their tests later this week and are expected to report them to their school sites.
“The at-home tests provide more access,” he said. “Every case we find is one to five cases prevented.”
On precautions to keep people safe at school testing sites
School districts are also working to prevent the spread of COVID-19 when people gather at testing sites.
“We try to ensure as much distance as possible for those in line and try to keep lines outdoors,” wrote Rai from San Juan Unified. “While testing stations are indoors, they are spread out. We also require face coverings.”
Testing sites for those with schools in San Juan Unified can be found here.
Soriano said that all EGUSD COVID-19 mobile testing clinics are held outdoors.
Sac City is attempting to keep people safe at COVID-19 testing sites with outdoor lines, social distancing, masking, hand hygiene and ventilation via open doors and windows, Goldberg said. The district offers testing for all students and staff on-site at schools at School Site Care Rooms during school hours.
“We have been testing symptomatic and exposed individuals all year long with these practices,” he said.
Sac City testing sites for staff and students reopened on Jan. 3, at the Serna Center (12:00-3:30 p.m.) and Albert Einstein Middle School (3:00-6:30 p.m.), with those sites open Monday through Friday.
On potential scenarios in which there could be a move back to distance learning
Rai from San Juan, Goldberg from Sac City and Soriano from EGUSD all said that the current plan is to stay with in-person learning.
“We do not anticipate a return to distance learning for all schools unless required to do so by local or state health officials,” Rai said via email.
School districts are independent and make their own decisions on whether to remain open, based on current health guidance.
“I can say that all the districts in our county are following the protocols and guidances set up by the Sacramento County Department of Public Health,” Herrera, with the Sacramento County Office of Education, said. “The health of our students and our staff and our families is a primary concern and we are doing everything we can to make sure that everyone is safe.”
Outside of testing sites for students and staff, general Sacramento County community COVID-19 testing sites can be found here.
Additionally, on Jan. 4, the Sacramento County Public Health department announced that it had partnered with the Sacramento Public Library and the Folsom Public Library to distribute over 90,000 COVID-19 test kits, limited to two a person. Due to high demand, Folsom Public Library has already exhausted its supply of tests, as have many of the Sacramento libraries.
The Sacramento Public Library said it hopes to have a limited supply of tests available Jan. 5 at all locations.
Ed Fletcher contributed reporting.
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.