Aspen schools finish first week of COVID-19 testing; nearly 500 students tested Friday |

Aspen schools finish first week of COVID-19 testing; nearly 500 students tested Friday

Dr. Jeannie Seybold (front right) and Dr. Christine Gieszl (background) teach Aspen High School students on Friday how to self-administer oral swab tests for COVID-19. The school district began testing students, teachers and staff this week.
Rick Carroll/The Aspen Times

Hundreds of students were orally swabbed Friday as the Aspen School District closed out its first week of voluntary testing aimed at getting a clearer sense of COVID-19’s presence in the hallways and classrooms.

Nearly 500 youths — including preschoolers at The Cottage and students in the elementary, middle and high schools —were tested throughout the day. The swabs were to be shipped via UPS to Los Angeles, home of the lab Curative. Results of the tests are expected to be available by Sunday.

“The guarantee is when the swab hits your mouth til the time of the result, it is 48 hours or less,” Bari Ramberg said.

Ramberg was under the testing tent with a group women who were instrumental in getting the tests to the Aspen School District. Yet this week’s arrival of the tests did not mean the work was finished for Ramberg, who is a nurse; and Drs. Jeannie Seybold and Christine Gieszl, as well as Katy Frisch, who is a school board member.

All were busy monitoring the test-taking, while Seybold and Gieszl instructed high school students on how the tests are self-administered.

“The school district has been looking at testing for months,” Frisch said. “Before we found this, we were going through a process and we had a small team working on figuring out what was available, what were our options, how much would it cost, how quickly we could get it. Everything related to the logistics around it.”

Ramberg learned about Curative’s seemingly easy accessibility recently when she was in Los Angeles. There was no reason Aspen’s public schools couldn’t get that same access, she figured.

“First I called the company, and then I called the state (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment), and then the state and the company and myself figured out how this would be funded and it’s through CARES,” she said. “They said ‘how many tests’ and they could supply them.”

Money from the $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package known as Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act is funding the purchase of the tests; that money can be spent through Dec. 31.

“This is part of federal and state money from the CARES Act and if you don’t use it, it goes away,” Frisch said. “And we want to use it and we’d like to continue this program.”

Aspen Mayor Torre volunteered throughout the day at the test tents, which were set up outside in front of the high school’s main entrance. Torre said he feels confident the city can do what the school district is doing in regards to hassle-free testing.

“We are still tying up loose ends and getting it in order, but I would expect some new opportunities for community testing coming soon,” he said.

Of the 190 individuals — mainly adult staff and faculty members — tested Tuesday at Aspen schools, one turned up a positive result the district learned about Thursday morning. Two other tests were inconclusive because of incomplete swab samples. Those two were retested Friday.

The one positive test resulted in nine staff members and 34 students at the high school returning to online learning Thursday. The middle and high schools began in-person learning, using weekly cohorts, Oct. 27. The elementary school has been going in person since Sept. 8 and began full-time, in-person classes Oct. 27.

The person who tested positive was showing no symptoms of COVID-19, which can include fever or chills, coughing, shortness of breath or breathing difficulty, fatigue, headaches, muscle and body aches, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea and loss of smell or taste.

Frisch said the tests are another safeguard with the district’s other measures to keep the virus at bay. That has included making the campus a mandatory mask zone, using classroom cohorts and not mingling students, social distancing and other practices.

“It doesn’t replace all of the other protocols and we’re not looking to change those,” Frisch said. “Our goal is to have our kids be in school as long and as safely as we possibly can.”

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