LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The company providing COVID-19 testing for Jefferson County Public Schools says it has resolved a data reporting error after a few Jefferson County Public Schools families were notified their children tested negative for the coronavirus despite never being screened.
A manual recording issue by SphereDX, a Lexington-based company that is testing students at JCPS and some private schools as part of a statewide $134 million federal grant, caused about five or six students in Kentucky’s largest school district to receive notifications recently that they had tested negative for COVID-19 even though they had not been screened, Chief Executive Officer Bobby Sturgeon said.
The company recently merged results from the district’s “test-to-stay,” “test-to-play” and in-school COVID-19 testing programs, and a manual mistake meant some students’ names were included in recent results when they shouldn’t have been, he said.
“When we were using spreadsheets to merge all these things together and put the results in, a name that should not have been on the list was there because they had done to ‘test-to-stay’ at some point and those had not been removed, and unfortunately a negative result had been put in that in that cell,” Sturgeon said. “… We've merged everything together to automate the system so that we've eliminated several of the errors.”
Eva Stone, health services manager for JCPS, said the issue was unexpected and one the district hopes to avoid in the future.
“This process is very important to helping us keep schools open for in-person learning,” Stone said. “We're thankful that the company has also been transparent and has worked with us to sit down and say what processes are being followed and how can we make that better so that this kind of human error doesn't happen again.”
The few families notified that their children had tested negative for COVID-19 despite not getting screened for the coronavirus is a miniscule percentage of the thousands of JCPS students tested regularly.
SphereDX averages between 80,000 and 100,000 COVID-19 tests for JCPS every month, according to Sturgeon. The company provides both drive-thru and in-school testing for JCPS.
“Our error rate has been so low that we feel very confident that what we're giving these patients -- we call them patients -- but what we're giving these children and their families are the correct results,” he said.
Thousands of JCPS students and employees are tested regularly for COVID-19, and the district recently launched two testing programs for participants in extracurricular activities and for those potentially exposed to others who have tested positive for the coronavirus.
More than 6,000 COVID-19 tests were administered the week before the Thanksgiving holiday for the district’s “test-to-play” program for extracurricular activities, and JCPS has averaged about 3,400 coronavirus screenings each week as part of the “test-to-stay” program, Stone said.
Students involved in extracurricular activities like athletics must undergo weekly COVID-19 testing and produce negative results before they can participate in the mandatory “test-to-play” program, which began Nov. 1. Those who are unvaccinated and may have been exposed to COVID-19 cases in schools can opt for the district’s voluntary “test-to-stay” program, which began Oct. 18 and requires negative test results for seven days before they can attend school or work, rather than quarantining.
“Those numbers vary depending on the week and the number of students in quarantine and the number of parents who choose to participate,” Stone said of the “test-to-stay” program.
Stone said fewer than 2% of participants in “test-to-stay” have later tested positive for COVID-19 based on recent results reviewed by the district.
The “test-to-play” program has “been a big lift” for JCPS schools as they handle the increase in testing volume, Stone said.
“Of course, we see more positives because testing helps pick up on people who aren't having symptoms that may be positive for COVID, and so it's just over 6,000 of those tests last week for ‘test-to-play,’ and it's going very well,” Stone said in a Tuesday interview with WDRB News.
Other improvements can be made to the district’s testing model, such as making the process more efficient so students can get back to their classes sooner, Stone and Sturgeon said.
“That is just a constant process that the schools are working on to make that quick, and a lot of it just depends on how the structure is set up,” Stone said. “I think that first week that this company did it they may have had some issues with staff not being there available. I know our school nurses jumped in and helped get the testing done so kids can get back to class. Sphere’s worked really hard to overcome some of those issues.”
Sturgeon said the company has hired about 60 more employees over the course of the last month.
“The wait times before could have been maybe 30 minutes for the children, which is a long time when you're talking about taking them out of class, so now with the increase of new employees, that should decrease significantly,” he said, “and I think the schools have seen that and they've been appreciative of that.”
Both defended the accuracy of COVID-19 test results at JCPS after the handful of reporting errors.
Stone noted that those who test positive for the coronavirus must undergo more sensitive PCR testing to confirm the results of rapid tests administered at district sites.
“When that PCR test result comes back, if it's positive, then we work on contact tracing for those other students that might have been impacted,” she said. “… All those processes are in place to help avoid errors, and so when (families) have questions about things, please feel free to reach out.”
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