The idea for a mobile testing van came after parents at Public School 8 in Brooklyn Heights expressed concerns that the city’s plan to swab 10% of unvaccinated kids who consent each week — was insufficient to catch new cases and give families peace of mind after potential exposures. The city’s program also leaves out vaccinated employees and kids in Kindergarten and pre-k.
“If only 10% are being selected every Monday, that’s a very small number of students getting tested on a regular basis,” said Jennifer Rendeiro, a P.S. 8 parent and co-president of the Parent Teacher Association. “One idea was to have this van, we would love to have it on a regular basis.”
The mobile testing van, operated by the company LabQ, will be outside the school between 7:30 and 8:30am Thursday for its first visit. If more than 50 people get tested, the visit will be free, but if fewer than 50 show up, the school’s PTA will be on the hook for $500, Rendeiro explained.
Rendeiro said that if the van draws enough interest, the PTA hopes to bring it back regularly, open access to the surrounding neighborhood and share the idea with other schools.
“My thought is if we can do this as a pilot and show it’s successful, maybe we can show how we did it with other surrounding schools,” said Rendeiro.
The mobile van experiment at P.S. 8 reflects concerns among some parents that the city’s random COVID-19 testing program is too small.
Last year, 20% of all students and staff in school buildings were tested each week.
Fewer than 200,000, of the estimated unvaccinated 550,000 DOE students have returned consent forms to be tested for the virus in school. Some are unaware their consent forms from last year have expired
“If it’s not a real concerted effort to reach the parents, many don’t know,” said Cynthia McKnight, the Community Education Council president for District 13, where P.S. 8 is located.
DOE spokesman Nathaniel Styer said “our schools have been among the safest places to be during the pandemic, and weekly in-school testing is critical to that success. The in-school positivity rate is significantly lower than citywide rates, 100% of our school employees are vaccinated, and we have many city-run, free testing sites across the city.
Rendeiro acknowledged that the mobile testing van arrangement was only possible because P.S. 8 has a PTA that can absorb the $500 cost.
The school raised more than $1.5 million during the 2018-19 school year, according to city data, and it has a poverty rate of 12% — far below the DOE average of 73%.
McKnight, who serves as a parent liaison for schools across the diverse District 13, said a middle school in the district with a higher poverty rate and a less-resourced PTA also expressed interest in beefing up its COVID-19 testing, but was struggling to figure out how.
“We do have equity issues in the district,” McKnight explaned.
Rendeiro said PTAs across the district have already begun working together to share ideas and resources, and she hopes to help spread the mobile testing van model more widely if it’s successful.
“The PTAs in District 13 run the gamut. It [equity] is obviously a concern,” Renediro said. “But it’s a concern about the testing too, and we’re trying to balance that and trying to keep our kids safe.”