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School districts plan to distribute COVID-19 test kits to students, staff before first day of class

The Sonoma County Office of Education began distributing 160,000 rapid COVID-19 antigen test kits to school districts Thursday, hoping to get them into the hands of staff and students before the first day of classes.

For most districts in Sonoma County, that will be the week of Aug. 15. Some districts start as early as Aug. 10.

Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District Superintendent Mayra Perez said the general atmosphere surrounding COVID feels different going into this school year.

“It’s a different feeling,” she said. “It’s almost like, ‘This is just part of our reality now’ versus ‘What now? What’s going to happen next?’”

But that doesn’t mean throwing all caution to the wind, and testing is one of the best ways to guard against outbreaks.

“We know that after long breaks we are more likely to have more cases, so we want families to be cautious and make sure that if you’re child’s not feeling well, or has any symptoms, please keep them home from school,” she said.

At 7 a.m. Thursday, the kits sat in cardboard boxes piled high in a large warehouse on Skylane Boulevard in Windsor. As of late morning, about 70% of public school districts and about 50% of private schools had confirmed they would pick up their allotted test kits, according to Sarah French, department assistant with the county’s office of education facilities, operations and maintenance.

Throughout the day, representatives from various public school districts drove up, picked up their boxes, signed a form and drove away. The whole operation seemed organized and straightforward. Charter and private schools can pick up their test kits Friday between 7 a.m. and noon.

Each kit contains two antigen tests. “One is intended to be used to screen students and staff before the first day of school. The second is meant to be held in reserve to test students or staff if they are symptomatic for COVID-19,” according to a news release.

Petaluma City Schools, whose first day is Aug. 16, will distribute test kits to students and staff at two locations on Aug. 12 and Aug. 15 — the district office on Douglas Street and McDowell Elementary School. Staff and parents can pick up the kits between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on either day.

“We want to make sure that we have access on both sides of our community, on both sides of the freeway,” said Maité Iturri, assistant superintendent of student services at Petaluma City Schools.

“We’re very grateful that (the office of education) is providing additional tests,” Iturri said. “It’s really one of the best strategies we have now to mitigate spread.”

Santa Rosa City Schools, the county’s largest district, picked up over 17,000 tests Thursday afternoon. The district plans to distribute the tests to individual schools on Aug. 8 and 9.

“School site personnel have been informed and plan to have test kits ready for pick up at school offices before the start of school so staff and students who wish to test before the first day of school will be able to do so,” said Vanessa Wedderburn, public information officer for Santa Rosa City Schools, in an email.

Wedderburn added that students and staff are still strongly encouraged to wear masks at school, though there is no longer a mandate.

Cotati-Rohnert Park will be distributing test kits and masks to school sites over the next week, according to Perez. She encourages families to pick up the kits during orientations.

“Any time that we have the parents coming in, we will be distributing the kits. And the masks will be on campus for anybody who needs a mask on a daily basis,” she said.

While the state of California is not requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for the 2022-23 school year, the county’s office of education strongly urges families to keep their students up to date on all vaccines.

You can reach Staff Writer Elena Neale-Sacks at elena.neale-sacks@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @elenaneale17.

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