CPS Community Perseveres Through Pool Testing Obstacles

Lou Targoff and Ruri Duffy

On Friday, December 31st, Cambridge Public Schools (CPS) announced a delayed opening of all schools until Wednesday, January 5th. The two days were intended to provide a period for testing, and confirming negative results, before returning to school. CPS conducted PCR pool testing on Monday, January 3rd at four locations: King Open/Cambridge Street Upper School, Morse Elementary School, Peabody Elementary School, and Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS). Administered from 10 AM to 4 PM, the tests were intended to provide insurance of a safe return with results available the following day. 

Due to complications at the Broad Institute, test results were not received by Wednesday the 5th. Both students and faculty, therefore, returned from break without test results, the sole purpose of the extra two days. For many students, this meant stressfully awaiting their and their classmates’ results. Student Government Senior Class Representative, Selma Ulm ’22, expressed her frustration toward the situation to The Register Forum:Students need stability and reassurance that the admin[istration’s] response has not really given them.”

It was upsetting knowing that I probably had COVID the entire week and never knew.”

— Jalen Chu '24

Sophomore Jalen Chu experienced the impact of the delays first hand. He tested on Monday, January 3rd at the Peabody Elementary School, and didn’t receive notice until Friday, January 7th that he was in a positive pool. After taking a rapid test as required, Chu tested positive. 

He told The Register Forum “It was upsetting knowing that I probably had COVID the entire week and never knew.” Since members of the community are required to quarantine from the day of their positive result, Chu had to start his quarantine that Friday instead of Monday as the pool test cannot confirm individual results: “I had to miss an extra week of school and athletics because of it.”

While this round of pool testing failed to produce timely results as CPS hoped, the district has been using the system of pool testing throughout the entire school year and will continue to do so. The district accounts for over 1,600 staff members and around 7,500 students. Superintendent Victoria Greer, shared with the Register Forum in an email that “[p]ool testing has been a good fit because it is a highly efficient lower cost process” when testing such a large community.

I believe the best way to maintain a sense of unity is to listen thoughtfully and respectfully to one another.”

— Dr. Victoria Greer

However, Dr. Greer knows that the system has its flaws, one of which being the prior sample size of 10 students: “when there was a positive pool, we had to rapid test up to ten students.” To address this, the pool sizes are being reduced to three to five students. Greer commented that this will “greatly reduce the number of students that have to be rapid tested when there is a positive pool.”

With testing and a pandemic comes anxiety, a factor that deans have become accustomed to dealing with. Dean Maria DiClemente however, believes that the community is coming together for the benefit of all individuals, and shared with The Register Forum over email: “While we do have some challenges ahead, it seems as though many community members are trying to do the “right thing” to keep everyone safe.”

Greer similarly believes that the only way to collectively persevere through this challenging time is by coming together. While this may be hard, she has faith that it can be done: “I believe the best way to maintain a sense of unity is to listen thoughtfully and respectfully to one another, be empathetic to the needs and concerns of others and find ways to celebrate and have fun even when things are difficult.”