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The students lined up with their polished black dress shoes — part of their school uniform — perfectly squared on top of the little blue X’s that were spaced apart on the floor.
Some nervously tugged on their plaid skirts as they waited to get checked for COVID-19. Others kept their nose in a textbook, trying not to think about the cotton swab that would soon be up their nose. And a few joked around, guessing at what they would later have for lunch in the same cafeteria where they were being tested Tuesday morning.
All of the kids had the same hope: that when they finally got through the line, their result would come back negative.
And most did during the Test to Stay event Tuesday at American Preparatory Academy’s Draper 2 campus.
The school is one of the first in Utah to reach the state-designated threshold for a COVID-19 outbreak this fall. On Monday, the K-6 charter at the south end of Salt Lake County reported having more than 30 cases of the virus among its 1,200 students.
As such, it is required by law that it test all students with parent permission. Those who test negative can continue attending class in person.
Those who test positive or refuse to test must stay home, taking classes remotely for two weeks. That quarantine period will end for the academy on Sept. 24.
The charter allowed The Salt Lake Tribune inside to see the process. By the end of the day, more than 700 kids were tested; that means more than 400 didn’t test there or were among those who already tested positive or have been quarantined. Students also can get a test at a different location and bring the results to the school.
Of those who got swabbed at the academy, 26 tested positive, according to a spokesman for the school.
“I was a little nervous,” said parent Maasa Yamagata, whose 10-year-old son, Yuma, attends the charter. “But when his results came back negative, I just let out a big sigh of relief.”
Yamagata volunteered to help with the testing and watched as the students jumped around the taped X’s like a gigantic game of tic-tac-toe.
She opened each antigen testing kit that included one swab — which was swirled by a registered nurse in a kid’s nose exactly five times to collect mucus — and then placed on a tray with solution for 15 minutes.
Two pink lines meant they were positive for COVID-19. One pink line meant they were negative. No line meant the test didn’t work.
“I noticed only a few positives,” Yamagata said. “I think it’s good they’re doing this. It’s the only way to know.”
All of the medical personnel and volunteers wore protective equipment. And most of the students were in masks, too. Yamagata has had her son wear a mask since classes began there on Aug. 18, even though they aren’t required this year. (The Republican-dominated Utah Legislature has prohibited schools from issuing their own mask mandates.)
Those who tested positive were sent to an isolation room, and their parents were called to pick them up.
A second school, Syracuse Elementary in Davis School District, also reached the threshold and had a Test to Stay event Tuesday. Parents were able to accompany their kid there, and many lined up starting at 7:30 a.m.
Davis Spokesman Chris Williams said the school had about 800 parents give permission for their students to be tested. According to the student population counts from last fall, there are 821 students there; counts for this fall have not yet been released.
Fifteen parents declined, Williams said, and a handful of others have kids who already tested positive.
The school hit the 30-case threshold on Sunday. Schools with fewer than 1,500 students are considered to have an outbreak with 30 positive cases. Those with more than 1,500 students do when they hit 2% of the population.
As of Tuesday morning, there were 40 cases reported at Syracuse Elementary. The Test to Stay event found an additional 15 cases, bringing the total there to 55 cases. Those who got a positive antigen test could also confirm the results there with a rapid PCR test.
“We’ve got those students who are now going to be go home and hopefully get better,” Williams said. “It also shows the exponential increase in this disease that is highly contagious.”
Last year, schools largely shut down and shifted to online learning with each outbreak, causing many to close and open and close again. This year, the state has instructed schools to remain open by using the testing program.
With the new delta variant and without mask requirements, case counts have been higher for Utah schools this year compared with last year.
So far, there have been 4,660 positive results tied to students — though the state estimates the real number is probably double that. Last year, it took until the end of October to reach 4,000 K-12 cases.
Some parents said they were not surprised by the counts or that the first two schools in Utah to reach the outbreak threshold were elementaries. Students under the age of 12 are not yet eligible to get the vaccine.
Sarthak Sahu, who has a 7-year-old son in second grade at American Preparatory Academy, said parents were put in a difficult position this year.
His son did first grade entirely online least year — including learning to read through a computer — because Sahu was worried about the high case counts in Utah. This year, Sahu said, he wanted the boy to go to school in person, meet other kids his age and have his education, overall, be less difficult.
But it also has meant Sahu has felt like he is putting his son as risk for contracting COVID-19, even sending him back to school in a mask (because other kids don’t have to wear them).
“We’re just crossing our fingers at this point,” he said.
The father was still waiting on his son’s test results Tuesday afternoon, checking his email every hour. He wasn’t too worried because there has not been a case directly in his son’s classroom. But he said it has been a little scary to see the cases rise each week at the school.
Sahu said it gave him some peace of mind that they were testing all students. He wants them to do it more regularly, not just in the case of an outbreak.
Sahu also volunteered to help with the testing at the charter. The students came down one class at a time to get their swab. There were four stations set up to run efficiently, with school nurses and parent volunteers finishing each test in less than a minute.
Yamagata, who was there with Sahu, said her son had experienced some symptoms about two weeks ago. He had a runny nose, a cough, a sore throat and a fever. She kept him home and got him tested for COVID-19 then. That came back negative.
She still does not know what it was that made Yuma ill — allergies or a seasonal cold. The boy did not return to school until he felt better.
The family got notified of the outbreak just as Yuma had tied on his black dress shoes to go to class. Yamagata is glad that his negative result with Test to Stay means he can continue putting on his uniform and going to school in person.