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Cornell, Cayuga Health donate COVID testing to ICSD

The Cornell COVID-19 Testing Lab at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

The Cornell COVID-19 Testing Lab at the College of Veterinary Medicine. Photo: Jason Koski/Cornell University

Responding to an urgent local need, Cornell University and the Cayuga Health System are donating COVID-19 testing and analysis to the Ithaca City School District (ICSD), testing more than 1,200 students this week as the district prepares to reopen for in-person instruction Oct. 5.

Cornell and Cayuga Health are donating $160,000 worth of testing capacity to the district, the only one of six public school districts in Tompkins County that hasn’t yet opened its doors to students.

Before students begin attending school in person, they will be tested Sept. 30 through Oct. 3. The weekday testing will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Cayuga Health Sampling Site, in the Shops at Ithaca Mall back parking lot. Two of the three drive-up lanes are being dedicated to Ithaca students. Testing on Saturday will take place from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., at a location to be announced.

The Cornell COVID-19 Testing Lab (CCTL), which opened Aug. 17 in the College of Veterinary Medicine, will analyze the ICSD tests.

“Cornell is pleased to be able to lend its surveillance testing expertise to the Ithaca City School District as it prepares to restart in-person instruction next week,” said Joel Malina, Cornell’s vice president for university relations. “Through this joint donation, Cornell and Cayuga Health System will provide the school district with an important and timely snapshot around the prevalence of COVID-19 among its community prior to students returning.”

The university and Cayuga Health are offering this testing in response to ICSD’s request for assistance as it prepared to reopen its 12 schools to students, and will make use of excess CCTL capacity for sample analysis.

“Offering this COVID-19 testing opportunity for ICSD students is good for our community and is an indication of outstanding partnerships,” said Luvelle Brown, ICSD superintendent. “We truly are all in this together.”

“Cayuga Health is proud to continue to support our regional community through enhanced testing, as businesses and educational institutions resume operations in this region,” said Dr. Martin Stallone, president and CEO of Cayuga Health System. “We will support our community in every possible way during this pandemic.”

According to Jennifer Turck, senior director of service lines and COVID lab business operations for Cayuga Health System, blocks of testing appointments are set at 15 minute intervals to help prevent long lines and waiting times. Weekday testing will include 324 tests per day. On Saturday, there will be 240 tests, for a grand total of 1,212 appointments for the week.

Testing will be conducted by Cayuga Health staff and Ithaca school nurses, supported by master of public health students from Cornell. Nurses and CHS staff will swab the anterior nares – or nostrils – for each student who is unable to self-collect, particularly younger children.

Appointments are required; ICSD families can register here.

For individuals with symptoms or direct exposure to positive cases, 211 is arranging free transportation, and can assist ICSD families with potential transport options (with varying fees). Help can be reached by dialing 2-1-1 on any phone.

With 5,264 students in pre-K through grade 12 as of June 30, ICSD is by far the largest in Tompkins County. The Dryden Central School District is second-largest, with 1,418 students.

By Tom Fleischman

A version of this story originally appeared in the Cornell Chronicle