March 04, 2021

Pro athletes do it... why can’t we? NYSUT and allies call for more COVID testing in schools

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source:  NYSUT Communications
COVID testing press conference

No matter how you feel about Tom Brady you gotta give him credit. He was the last man standing during a football season that might never have happened, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It wasn’t his offensive line, however, that saved the season; it was his union.

“Everybody loves football in America,” said DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association. “But this year, it took the most herculean effort I’ve ever been a part of to mount and complete a 256-game schedule in a sport where grown men wrestle with each other, and to crown a Super Bowl champion.”

Smith joined NYSUT for a virtual news conference Thursday on the importance of ramping up COVID testing in school districts across New York in order to reopen safely.

Note: Program begins at 12 min. 44 sec.

He said the NFLPA, the players, the league and the owners embraced a COVID testing regimen “to have an early warning system” revealing asymptomatic players who could start an outbreak. “Daily testing became the lynch pin, with aggressive contact tracing, and isolating of players as needed,” he said.

“If COVID-19 has a superpower, it is the power to hide, to hide in someone who has no symptoms,” said Mara Aspinall, from Arizona State University and an adviser to the Rockefeller Foundation. Regular testing, once a week, can identify infected individuals who show no symptoms but are highly contagious.

“You will find these asymptomatic cases and you will be able to isolate them before you have an outbreak,” she said.

Labor leads

NYSUT President Andy Pallotta led the discussion to highlight effective strategies implemented by New York City schools, SUNY colleges and the NFL as examples for districts to follow.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its February school reopening guidance made clear that testing for students and staff has an important role to play in limiting the spread of the virus.

Still, the union recently found that 74 percent of respondents in a February poll of NYSUT members outside New York City said their districts are not doing any regular testing.

“Getting a handle on asymptomatic spread is critical to preventing outbreaks,” Pallotta said. “The nation’s largest school district, the nation’s largest higher education system and the nation’s largest sports leagues have figured this out. There’s no reason we can’t do that, too.”

Medical experts

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, said the union worked from the beginning of the pandemic with top medical experts to establish best practices for safe reopening, and kept politics out of the discussion. Asymptomatic testing is key, he said.

“You must have the early warning system to stop the spread if it becomes evident in a school situation, and it will become evident,” he said. Those affected can be isolated until they are clear again.

“We all want the same things: the end of this pandemic, kids in school and for everybody to be safe,” he said.

Fred Kowal, president of United University Professions, the NYSUT affiliate representing academic and professional faculty on State University of New York four-year campuses and health science centers, said the union and the university made a commitment to operate safely.

“We put together guidelines that included mandatory testing for all students and staff on campus, mandatory mask wearing, mandatory physical distancing and continued long-term surveillance testing. … Every student, every faculty member and every staff member is tested weekly.”

One campus opened last August without asymptomatic testing and quickly found itself swimming in 600 symptomatic cases, forcing closure. Kowal said that has not happened elsewhere, because of the testing.

The myth

“These labor leaders here today are debunking the myth that we as workers do not want to be back doing the work that we love,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

“The failure to reopen is a failure of resources,” she said, but “there will be money in the [current federal relief bill] to get this done. There are no excuses for not having the mitigation, masks and testing.

“If in-school learning is a priority, testing has to be a priority.”