Community Provides Mobile COVID-19 Tests Required for In-Person Learning
April 1, 2022
Gila River Indian News
The Gila River Indian Community hosted testing clinics on March 18 for students returning back to class by the March 21 reopening date for schools to resume in-person learning with mobile COVID-19 test units set up at three school locations. To return to classrooms, all students must be tested for COVID-19 and fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Having all the schools put on vaccine and testing clinics, that’s part of our overall reopening plan,” said Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis.
Part of the reopening plan, he added, is testing the students and developing a baseline of how safe it is to resume in-person classes. “It takes working together with Community departments, Tribal Health Department, the Office of Emergency Management, [and] Gila River Health Care to make this possible,” Gov. Lewis said.
Tribal Education Department Director Isaac Salcido said tribal leadership, Community Council, the COVID-19 task force, Gila River Healthcare and the schools worked together to come up with a feasible plan. “When Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis issued Executive Order No. 14, it puts some parameters in place, such as all students needing to be vaccinated; all staff working directly with kids having to be fully vaccinated,” he explained. “And then we added the testing piece as a precaution.”
COVID-19 testing adds a layer of protection to the students and staff as they start returning to class, Salcido noted. Per the guideline, students must provide a negative COVID-19 PCR test no more than five days prior to starting school in person. Parents could get their child tested for COVID-19 at mobile clinics at Blackwater Community School, Gila Crossing Community School, Maricopa Village Christian School and Casa Blanca Community School.
Regarding the mobile testing sites, Salcido said, “We did both Blackwater Community School and Casa Blanca Community School in the same day, which would not have been possible without the coordination and participation of the Tribal Health Department and OEM.”
The tests were administered with the guidance of THD and Steward Health Care/Prorenata Team, which notified parents and guardians of their child’s result by email.
In all, 287 students were tested: 87 at BWCS, 51 at CBCS, 144 at GCCS and 5 from MVCS. Schools are reopening as the average rate of positive COVID-19 cases for the past three weeks has been down to 8 percent.
For some parents, testing means students are able to have a sense of normalcy in their lives. “My son has been tested before…the first time he did it, he was a little nervous, but this time he was fine,” said parent Karen Ann Evans of District 4.
She said she approves of the requirement for students to be vaccinated and tested because she knows the hands-on environment will help her son learn. “He wants to go school and be around his friends, but I want him to get the in-person instruction for his well-being,” she remarked.
Robert Antone, Sr. took his grandchildren to get tested for COVID-19 at the CBCS campus. “They have been tested before for COVID-19, so we are familiar [with] this process,” he said, adding that the testing sites provided at the school sites bring peace of mind to families wanting to see their children return to in-class instruction.
BWCS Principal Jagdish Sharma said both the students and employees will be tested together every two weeks, thanks to the Community’s assistance. The Community’s partnership with the schools also provides personal protective equipment and other sanitizing gear to maintain a safe environment.
Sharma said 131 students have returned to class at BWCS and he expects to see a steady stream return as the weeks go on.“ At this point we are in a hybrid mode,” he said. “Teachers have to teach both audiences in class and virtual students at the same time.”
When all students return to the classroom, he added, it will be easier for them to teach and for the students to have more opportunities to improve their achievement scores.
Sharma said parents are waiting to see how the COVID-19 numbers look in the first couple of weeks of class before deciding on whether to send their student to in-person learning.
“We have around 500 kids [in the Community] going to school right now, which is a big difference from what it was a month ago,” Salcido said. “[Schools] are all following the protocols and guidance.” He added that the Education Standing Committee and Health & Social Standing Committee are participating in the re-opening of the schools by reviewing and approving the school reopening plans.
“It has been a real community-wide effort, involving the parents, schools, Executive Office, council, committees, and departments in the reintroduction of in-person learning for schools,” said Salcido.