Students in Cambridge are going to class without knowing if they or their classmates are infected with COVID-19.
Most of the individual test results that were expected before the first day of school after the winter break won’t be made available.
“It was a fiasco,” said Catherine Elton, a mother of two Cambridge schoolgirls.
Elton sent her two daughters to school this week, without knowing if their classmates tested positive for COVID-19.
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“It was a fiasco because the results didn’t come back and so you were supposed to send your children into school where they knew they had positive children, but they didn’t identify them individually – they did pool testing,” Elton said.
Cambridge Public Schools tested about 3,500 students on Monday with the hopes of finding out who would have to isolate before school resumed on Wednesday.
Parents and students waited in long lines, standing in the cold for up to three hours, Elton said.
By Wednesday, morning no individual results had come back, only pool numbers. Nearly half of the 362 pool tests came back positive.
That same day, more than a quarter of the district’s students didn’t show up for school.
“A lot of my friends either had COVID during the break or right in the days before break so a lot of my friends are out. There’s just not a lot of people at school,” noted Elton’s daughter Mica Ormeno, who is a sophomore at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School.
By Thursday, only three individual test results were returned, while 123 students were identified in positive pool tests.
The district told thousands of families who tested on Monday that their result won’t be coming in, with no clear reason as to why.
“People are very nervous right now, myself included” CRLS student Keefer Glenshaw said. “A lot is up in the air, we don’t know what’s going to happen, and I just hope everything works out OK. I want to have a senior year.”
In a letter to parents, the Cambridge school district said Broad Institute labs – which processed the tests – is taking full responsibility.
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NBC 10 Boston asked Broad Institute what had happened and why, but directed questions to CIC Health, a contractor for testing services between Cambridge and Broad Institute.
CIC issued a statement saying in part:
“Due to a large increase in the volume of testing and, in particular, positive results… end-to-end turn-around times, measured from the time a sample is collected to when there's a result, have temporarily increased…”
CIC Health noted they don’t process the tests or release results.
Sara Ontiveros, whose daughter goes to CRLS, just wants to move past this incident.
“Often times you don’t know what’s going on, but I think they’re trying their best in a difficult situation,” she said. “And I think COVID is here to stay, so we have to learn to live with it and get on with getting kids into school and getting educated.”
The Cambridge school district told NBC 10 Boston they are still trying to understand what happened and is still waiting to learn if the Broad Institute labs are the district's regular testing partner.
The district noted it worked with the National Guard on Thursday to conduct tests at the schools with most pooled infections, and plan to resume their routine weekly testing on Monday.