March 30, 2021
New Trier High School's COVID-19 weekly saliva surveillance program is an important mitigation factor that is helping keep our campuses open and safe even when community spread may be high. Since we began the program in November, we have identified approximately 120 cases of COVID-19 - many of them asymptomatic. These individuals 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 not just at New Trier but at the numerous other schools that use this particular low-cost and highly accurate screening method.
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.
New Trier's saliva surveillance program is one mitigation factor among many the school uses to determine the safety of offering in-person instruction and in its consideration of when and how to increase in-person opportunities. Students also must submit to daily health screening questions, including temperature checks, in order to come on campus as mandated by state guidelines. Those precautions exclude students from in-person learning for a quarantine period if they have a temperature, any symptoms of COVID-19, or if they have engaged in an activity that puts them at risk of COVID-19. The state has also imposed other requirements for in-person learning, such as mask wearing, to help mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission at school. As a result of all of these measures - as well as others New Trier has in place such as improved ventilation systems and enhanced cleaning - 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.