Schools in the Randolph area shut down on Thursday and will not open until Tuesday, local officials said, as a lack of rapid Covid-19 tests halted student testing programs.
Layne Millington, superintendent of the Orange Southwest school district covering Randolph, Braintree and Brookfield, informed parents of the district’s decision in a series of messages this week.
“The recent surge of cases in our district has quickly depleted our testing supplies, which are a vital component to keeping students in school and our schools open,” Millington wrote Tuesday in a message to school families.
You’ll never miss a story with our daily headlines in your inbox.
About “10% of people in the district” had tested positive for Covid-19 on Monday, Millington said in an email to VTDigger.
“We received a large shipment of take-home rapid tests on Monday, but most were used up by Tuesday afternoon,” Millington said in an email to VTDigger.
The district would need more than 250 rapid tests a day for its high school students alone, the superintendent said.
By Wednesday, the district had only 14 left.
For Vermont’s schools, the two weeks after the holiday break have been brutal. The highly contagious Omicron variant of the virus has burned through classrooms, shuttering schools across the state. On Tuesday, subzero temperatures forced even more schools to keep students at bay.
Unlike many other districts in the state, Orange Southwest kept some of its schools — Braintree Elementary, Randolph Elementary, and Brookfield Elementary — open during the frigid weather. But on Wednesday, the district announced that all of its schools would close until Jan. 18.
The announcement comes as state education officials are advising schools to overhaul their testing procedures.
Under previous guidance, school staff were told to conduct contact tracing after identifying an infectious case on campus — a process known as “test to stay.” Unvaccinated close contacts were required to test negative on daily rapid tests before returning to class.
Now, top officials are recommending that, instead of contact tracing, schools should simply notify the parents of all children who share a class with an infectious student.
School staff were instructed to send kids home with rapid tests, and parents — not school staff — should conduct the daily rapid testing, the state said.
Because it involves all students who share a class with a positive case, the new model is expected to require many more rapid tests than its predecessor.
But in Orange Southwest, which has been conducting a test-to-stay program, that difference is moot.
“Right now, we do not have enough testing supplies to support either the old Test to Stay program or the new, given the almost overnight surge in our case counts,” Millington told families in the Tuesday message.
It’s unclear if such shortages have forced other districts to shut schools. Jeff Francis, executive director of the Vermont Superintendents Association, said he was unaware of other schools that had closed due to a lack of rapid tests.
But amid the surge in Omicron cases, rapid tests have been notoriously hard to come by in Vermont, with multiple state test distributions depleted hours after opening.
“The recent surge in cases driven by Omicron means that some districts are burning through kits much more quickly than previously,” Suzanne Sprague, an Agency of Education spokesperson, told VTDigger in an email. “We are working to quickly get additional kits to schools to cover gaps, and make sure these districts have enough take-home kits to start the new program.”
Sign up for our guide to the global coronavirus outbreak and its impact on Vermont, with latest developments delivered to your inbox.