When a nasal swab went up his nose, Dick McGrady had all sorts of reactions.
First and foremost, he thought he was going to sneeze, and in his effort to keep that at bay, he started laughing. Next, his eyes began to water; as a big-time sufferer of seasonal allergies, anything in his nasal area causes a tickle.
Fortunately for him, the COVID-19 test lasted only a few seconds, so McGrady grabbed a few tissues and headed back to his class at Fredericksburg Academy, where he’s an English teacher.
Adults at the private school went through their second round on in-house testing Thursday—not because the virus has entered the building, but in an attempt to keep it out. Knock on wood, there hasn’t been a single positive case, said Karen Moschetto, head of school, and she hopes to keep it that way.
McGrady was glad to see the testing in combination with the return to class.
“Anything we can put in place to make it work just gives me peace of mind,” he said.
Since school reopened Aug. 19 with full in-person classes, Fredericksburg Academy has rearranged furniture to keep pupils apart, encouraged more teachers to take their classes outside and reinforced the daily mantra of mask-wearing, social distancing and plenty of hand washing. A parent even built an outside hand-washing station—similar to what’s seen at petting farms—for students returning from outdoor classes because only one person is allowed in the bathroom at a time.
Students and staff alike are screened daily, and have their temperatures taken before they enter the building. On Mondays, they’re asked if they traveled over the weekend. Throughout the school day, students use the main exterior doors that lead outside to avoid passing others in the hallways, Moschetto said.
When Dr. Kyan Hood offered to bring COVID-19 testing to the school, Moschetto saw it as another way to keep staff and students safe. Two weeks ago, adults who wanted to be tested could do so, at no cost, by entering an empty classroom in the Lower School building.
The first go-round included screening each person’s medical history and gathering insurance information. Hood, who owns Attain Medical Wellness Clinic, bills each person’s insurance and uses a lab in Texas, which provides results in less than 36 hours. The lab bills the insurance providers.
Tests are covered under the CARES Act, and Hood said he’ll continue offering them to schools, businesses and other institutions until that changes. He’s the only doctor in the Rappahannock Area Health District doing on-site testing, according to public health officials.
Fredericksburg Academy made the choice to limit the voluntary tests to teachers and staff members at least for the foreseeable future, Moschetto said.
“They are not likely to be the spreaders, they’re more likely to be the ones who get it,” she said. “If they’re sick, that’s the house of cards that starts falling. Because this virus is spread so frequently from those who are asymptomatic, it really helps us catch things before they become a cluster, and we want to be protecting our faculty.”
Hood agreed, saying the early detection prevents one positive case “from being three and three from being 10” and so on.
None of the 54 staff members tested in the first round had the virus, and Moschetto sees the negative results as positive reinforcement that protocols are working. She can’t count the number of times she’s told staff and students to stay home if they’ve got a cough, fever or any other symptoms.
Fredericksburg Academy has about 360 students from 3-year-olds to high school seniors, and its enrollment is up slightly from the end of last year, Moschetto said. A lot of parents inquired about enrolling their children there over the summer, but because of the 6-foot spacing between desks, the school “really can’t add a whole lot more,” she added.
As classes got back in session, teachers revised ways they did things and founded added benefits. McGrady, for instance, teaches high school English in a classroom that doesn’t have windows. The idea of being there for 90 minutes at a time with a group of students with no ventilation in the midst of a pandemic didn’t sit well, so he started moving the classes outside.
It’s worked out so well that he wondered: “Why haven’t I gone outside with my kids more often?”
On Thursday, band students sat outside the Arts & Sciences building and practiced their instruments while other classes met under shade trees on the lawn. There were a few students at picnic tables and others sitting apart on the ground.
Sheila Wimble, who teaches physical education in the Lower School, said she was a little anxious about returning, but has been even more excited to see students. She also adapted her games; instead of using bowling balls to knock down pins, students kick soccer balls at them. And she’s incorporated pool noodles into many games because they provide a colorful yard stick that reminds students how far to stay apart.
Wimble said the regular testing helps her feel “much more at ease” being back at school.
People have to find a way to feel better in the midst of the global crisis, said Lauren Bock, a physician’s assistant who works with Hood.
“We all want that reassurance right now,” she said.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
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