SOMERSET, NJ – As school districts prepare for the return of students amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Franklin Township wants every student tested before doors open in the fall. Officials plan to use federal grant money to administer the thousands of tests needed to cover the township’s students later this month, with any additional costs to be covered by Interfaith Urgent Care. 

“It’s so vitally important if we want to open our schools,” Mayor Phillip Kramer said. “Our goal is to test every student before they go to school.”

Related: Teachers, Principals, and Administrators Call for Statewide Remote Learning to Start the School Year

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The mayor said that the township hopes all students, not just those attending public schools, will get tested. He left it to the board of education to announce the details, but revealed that testing will be available on Aug. 23-25. The testing is open to all, but the township is urging students to get tested so they can get results before they go back to school. Faculty and staff testing is set to take place between Aug. 20-21. 

Recognizing the concern some children might have about getting a nasal COVID-19 test, which Vornlocker described as “not painful but certainly not comfortable” after recently getting tested, the township is opting for a less invasive cheek swab. Officials hope this will help any children who may feel anxious about the test. 

“It’s a swabbing of the mouth that has been found to be an accurate test for active COVID-19 and has an emergency use authorization from the federal government,” Vornlocker said. “I read some studies and it seems to be an accurate form of testing that is far less intrusive, especially for younger children.” 

But this method of testing and the speed that the township hopes to return results to students and parents isn’t cheap. The township plans to use federal dollars acquired in June as part of a $160,000 Community Development Block Grant from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development. Of the $160,000 the township received, $50,000 is allocated for testing. That money remains unspent and the township hopes it will cover most of the cost of testing for students. 

“This is an opportunity for us to utilize that money,” said Vornlocker. “Now we have an opportunity to get a tremendous amount of students tested before they go back to school and I think this would be a good way to utilize that money.”

Related: New COVID-19 Front Line? Educators, Health Experts Say It Will Be Schools

But the cost of the thousands of tests needed to cover each of Franklin’s students is unlikely to be covered by the $50,000 of federal grant money. The township manager said that Interfaith Urgent Care led by Rabbi Abe Friedman will cover additional expenses and offer everything at no cost to the township or those being tested. 

According to Vornlocker, much of the additional cost comes from reserving laboratory time. 

“There would be reserved laboratory time to do the processing of the specimens to get the results in a quick turnaround time, that’s one of the reasons why there’s an additional cost involved,” he said. 

Mayor Kramer said the national problems with the time it takes to get results back is one of his main concerns. He said that even though he can’t guarantee speedy results, knowing if students have the virus is essential to reopening schools. 

“We have to have this back in time so we can make a decision about our schools and so that we can prevent infected children from going to school,” he said.

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