Wilson struggles to meet COVID-19 testing quotas

Joanna Chait

Wilson has steadily expanded COVID-19 asymptomatic testing of students since early September, but it has not consistently met its weekly quotas. 

Wilson’s testing quota permanently shifted to 20 percent starting on October 12. On that day, the school fell short of its goal. On Tuesday, October 19, Wilson did not reach its weekly target, according to the testing coordinator of Wilson’s testing site. Testing only occurs once a week, meaning that the school has one day to reach its weekly target.

As of October 22, out of 1584 tests administered, they have only detected three positive cases school-wide.

The first two weeks of testing—September 13 and 21—Wilson fell short of its 10 percent quota of 215 students. In the next two weeks, the school reached its target and continued to test more students.

The DC Council has voted on legislation to expand DCPS’s asymptomatic testing quotas to 20 percent of the school population weekly. Although the legislation is awaiting a response from the mayor, the mandate is likely to take effect by November 15 at the latest.

When asked about the asymptomatic testing system Interim Principal Gregory Bargeman said, “I think it’s effective. I mean if we get our numbers it’s effective.” 

However, several factors prevent Wilson from achieving its testing quotas. 

The most significant barrier is that students are not permitted to drink water, eat, or chew gum for an hour before testing.

“It’s difficult because sometimes we have a class in which half or more can’t take the test because of the restrictions,” Bargeman said.

If students violate pre-testing protocol, their vial can be discolored or have food particles in it. Upon inspection by testing staff, the invalid samples are thrown away and are not counted toward the quota.

Because not every student that is randomly selected to test can submit a true saliva sample, “what they’re trying to do is purposefully overestimate,” social studies teacher Robert Geremia said. To ensure that Wilson receives enough valid samples, 10 to 15 percent more students than the required number of tests are called to participate in testing.

Senior Salif Bumbaugh’s first-period AP Literature Class was randomly selected for testing on October 12. He estimated that “at least half the class” was unable to pass the test. “It was the first period, we weren’t told about it before, [and] I’d been chewing gum. I had no idea,” Bumbaugh said. 

Breakfast, which takes place before school and the two lunch periods in the middle of the day, make it harder for Wilson to collect enough true samples.

In the first few weeks of the program, there were some hiccups in communication between DCPS, Shield T3, and Wilson in reaching testing quotas. The result was that teachers were not notified at least 24 hours in advance of testing.

Geremia’s second-period AP Comparative Government class participated in testing on Tuesday, September 28, during the third week of the program. The process took the entire duration of the class period. Geremia believes this was because “whoever does the testing did not have enough staff members to process the vials fast enough.” 

However, according to Director of Strategy and Logistics Brandon Hall, this problem has since been resolved “for the most part.” He added that “we’ve received three more [COVID testers], so we have six on-site every Tuesday to accommodate the 20 percent quota that we have to meet weekly.”

English teacher Sheeba Rashada took her fourth period on October 12 to receive testing. “The experience was very efficient,” she said. Rashada recalls that only three or four of her students were unable to test, out of a class of 25. 

Likewise, English teacher Charles Preacher thinks that the second time he took his class to get tested on October 12, “it was much more efficient,” only taking “ten minutes tops.”

Although the saliva sample collection process has become more efficient since the initial roll-out, science teacher Will Gomaa thinks that “the most obvious thing to do to improve asymptomatic testing would be to offer both these spit tests and a nasal swab,” he said.

DCPS does saliva spit testing because it is non-invasive. Hall believes most of the school community prefers non-invasive tests. “The kids in the first week of school were scared to take the test because they thought it was a [nasal swab] PCR test. They were very anxious,” he said. 

In total, Wilson has reported (X) total cases of COVID-19 as of (*date*) •