Yesterday the New York Times published an article about New Trier High School’s use of SafeGuard Surveillance for its saliva screening program. This is the same company used by Oak Park and River Forest High School for its saliva testing program.
Our weekly saliva surveillance program is an important mitigation factor that is helping to keep COVID-19 from spreading in our school community. Since we began our hybrid learning program on Feb. 1, saliva screening has identified seven cases of COVID-19 among our students and staff, all of them asymptomatic.
The saliva screener is not a diagnostic test, and we have always been clear about that with our community. All individuals who test positive on the screener are referred to their doctor or a state testing site to confirm a COVID-19 diagnosis. This identification has helped protect the school as well as those individuals’ family, friends, and our greater community. The program uses an internationally recognized RT-Lamp process adapted by SafeGuard Surveillance, which has correctly identified hundreds of COVID-19 cases that were later confirmed by lab testing at the numerous area schools that use this particular low-cost and highly accurate screening method.
In response to the New York Times article, New Trier issued the following statement: “We are extremely disappointed in a recent New York Times article about the surveillance program, which contains inaccuracies and omits several important points about the program, including how the program has been authorized to operate under guidance from the federal Department of Health and Human Services and the fact that it has successfully identified hundreds of cases of COVID-19. Both SafeGuard Surveillance and New Trier shared letters with the Times from government officials that oversee screening regulation confirming the program’s lawful operation as well as the success stories, studies, and numerous endorsements from the scientific community - all of which the story omitted. New Trier has also met with local and state health authorities to review our use of the program and they have not directed us to change our use of it. From the time the program began, New Trier has been clear that the saliva program is non-diagnostic and must be confirmed by a lab test. To suggest otherwise is false.”
We concur with New Trier’s statement. Legal counsel has reviewed our program, and we are confident that it is an appropriate and useful part of our multi-layered approach to mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Our other mitigation measures include a daily symptom screener that must be completed to enter the building, universal mask wearing, social distancing, ventilation system upgrades, frequent hand sanitization, enhanced cleaning and disinfection, and contact tracing. As a result of all of these measures, the risk of in-school transmission is very low.
We continue to remain committed to doing all we can to safely continue and increase in-person opportunities for our students, and our saliva surveillance program remains an important part of our considerations. We are grateful to our parents and staff members for their strong participation in this program and for the work they are doing to maintain a safe educational environment.