ITHACA, N.Y. — Ithaca City School District students returning for in-person classes will be able to receive entry COVID-19 testing through Cornell University and the Cayuga Health System, both of which are collaborating to donate testing capacity to assist the district’s reopening. According to Cornell, the tests will be available for 1,212 students this week and is worth $160,000. Testing for students will be free of charge.

Students will undergo testing from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3 through two special lanes at the Shops at Ithaca Mall parking lot COVID-19 sampling center, which has now moved to the back of the mall near the Regal Cinema theater, open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Wednesday until Friday. On Saturday, Oct. 3, testing will be conducted from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at a location yet to be announced. Appointments must be made at 15-minute intervals to reduce lines and waiting and can be scheduled at the Cayuga Health System scheduling portal, and can call 2-1-1 if transportation is needed. Classes have been held remotely since mid-September, but the district will be bringing students who chose to enroll in in-person classes on Oct. 5.

Currently, the district is placing a focus on students who are returning for in-person classes to receive testing, though it does appear that there will be a significant number of students who won’t be able to receive a test due to capacity. At last update, the school district said around half of its total student population had chosen to return for in-person classes (the district lists 5,264 total enrolled students in Wednesday’s announcement), meaning around 2,600 students would theoretically be slated for an entry test, but with only 1,212 available it is unclear where that leaves the other 1,400 or so students. A request for comment to ICSD superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown has not yet been answered, but will be added when it is available. The testing is not mandatory to return to in-person classes.

“Due to limited capacity, we are unable to test all students. We hope to prioritize students returning for in-person instruction next week, particularly those whose parents/caregivers don’t already have access to regular surveillance testing (e.g., health professionals, Cornell employees),” the district said on Wednesday. “We also ask families with multiple children to consider only registering one student for testing.”

Any ICSD student is eligible for testing; teachers and staff are not included in the testing program, though the district does mention that testing is still free for all Tompkins County residents.

In its announcement, the district included gratitude to CHS and Cornell for their help as ICSD readies to reopen.

“Offering this COVID-19 testing opportunity for ICSD students is good for our community and is an indication of outstanding partnerships,” Brown said. “We truly are all in this together.”

The district does not state a threshold of positive test results that would force it to modify its reopening plans, which currently call for in-person classes to begin next Monday.

“Based on the number of positives identified, Cornell will help estimate the range of viral prevalence among our student population,” the district said in its FAQ section of the announcement. “A small number of positive cases identified will not necessarily preclude reopening for in-person instruction, and we will determine, in consultation with the local health department whether any level of closure is necessary.”

The test will consist of an anterior nares sample, which is explained in this video from Cornell. It’s meant to be self-collected, but the district said school nurses and Cayuga Health staff will be at the testing sites to assist with collections.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com