It’s been almost a month since Juneau’s school board voted to require Juneau School District employees to get weekly COVID-19 tests. The mandate was supposed to go into effect no later than Oct. 4.
KTOO’s Bridget Dowd sat down with JSD Superintendent Bridget Weiss to get an update.
Read a transcript of the conversation with minor edits for clarity.
Bridget Dowd: Alright, so last time we talked, the district was gathering vaccine and exemption information to figure out how many employees would be required to test because only unvaccinated employees or those who hadn’t contracted COVID in the last 90 days are required to do it.
You were also working on expanding the number of testing sites you had available because in the past, the district had offered voluntary testing for staff members.
I know you had intended to start the required weekly testing by last week, so has it been officially implemented yet and if so, how is it going?
Bridget Weiss: So we started out at a couple of sites and then three sites and now we have testing five days a week. We have a morning session [and] an afternoon session and it’s spread out at 10 different sites. So we’ve increased the access to testing to make it as user-friendly as possible for our staff.
The other thing that we have done is we had to survey our staff to determine vaccine status and we had not done that formally before. We still have some staff that haven’t done that yet. So this week, we’re hitting that real hard.
We do have just shy of 600 employees who have completed the process to let us know their vaccination status. Of those people who have done that, 92% are vaccinated. We still have about 100 who haven’t completed the survey yet.
Then the other way to opt-out of required weekly testing is if they’ve had COVID in the last 90 days. So we have some staff that have had COVID recently. So with all that said, up to this point, with 600 or so reporting, we have about 40 staff members who are going to be required to test and are required to test at this point.
Bridget Dowd: So for those 40, the requirement is already in place and they already have to do their weekly testing. But for those 100 or so employees who haven’t filled it out yet, are they being required to test until they provide their information or how does that work?
Bridget Weiss: Correct. That’s kind of what we’re getting at this week. We have to make sure that we’ve given everybody enough support in doing it. Then we’re going to reach out to their supervisors and have them check with them and really they have that choice: They can complete the survey, or test, or both, depending on their status, of course. But yes, if they haven’t completed the process, then we will be expecting them to test.
How many of those 100 maybe don’t want to do it, or just didn’t get a chance to do it, didn’t have time, or didn’t know how to do it, I don’t know yet. Next week, I’ll know how much trouble we’re [having] getting the last little bit of that survey done.
Bridget Dowd: Have you had anyone thus far, maybe of those 40 people, who have just decided they don’t want to share their vaccine status?
Bridget Weiss: I have had a couple people share that with me, you know, we’re a subset of our community. So every perspective that exists in our community is going to exist somewhere in our 700-person staff and we’re doing this as respectfully as possible. There is no judgment involved. There are many different reasons somebody might not be vaccinated.
We are, right now, keeping our testing sites open for people who voluntarily want to test, who are vaccinated but still want to test. We’re going to keep that going as much as we can, depending on capacity once we get to the end of this whole survey piece.
So when people go to our sites to test, nobody knows whether they’re vaccinated or not. We think that’s pretty supportive to people in not feeling pointed out or judged.
Bridget Dowd: Shifting gears a little bit, obviously, there’s been some talk recently about moving forward with COVID-19 vaccines for children five and up. Does the district have a plan in place for when COVID-19 shots are available to that age group, as far as setting up vaccine clinics for them?
Bridget Weiss: Yeah, we’re so excited by that news and we are working closely with CBJ and Juneau Public Health. We’ve done this all along, at every stage of the vaccine, we have planned in advance and been ready and prepared. As soon as the vaccine was available and the approval was there, we were ready to launch opportunities. So we’re doing that again.
Because these are littler ones, we want to be very conscientious about parent involvement and opportunity. So we’re looking at how we can do these a little bit differently than we’ve done before. So that we are most supportive of families being with their kids and where we might do that. We’re still in the planning stages. It looks like this vaccine is a little bit different [of a] dose than the adult dose. So I don’t know if that’s going to slow things up at all once they get approval, if we’ll have to wait for certain doses to show up, but we’ve got it down so that we really know what works well and what doesn’t. So we’re going to be ready to make that opportunity available at the very first chance we can.
Bridget Dowd: The last time we spoke you also mentioned that you were working on a plan to increase testing among students. Do you have any more information on that yet?
Bridget Weiss: We are still designing and looking. We want to focus on our elementary students because that is where we are seeing the most COVID, for good reason. They’re our unvaccinated population and because they’re unvaccinated, we’re having to quarantine a lot of students.
So we’re just looking at those combinations of things and how we can be most strategic at elementary, again, with parent permission. Any way we can use that as well as some other strategies, increased screening as an example, to start reducing those quarantine numbers. So that’s kind of where our heads are at right now in the planning, but I’m hoping by next Tuesday, I’ll have a more distinct plan to share.