HCHF continues COVID-19 testing effort

  • Students wait to receive a COVID-19 test at Highlands School. The testing program is being administered by the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation.
    Students wait to receive a COVID-19 test at Highlands School. The testing program is being administered by the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation.

The Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation has successfully funded COVID-19 testing at Highlands School, Blue Ridge School and Summit Charter School to maximize the safety of in-person learning and minimize the risk of community spread.

The testing program began in September at each school location.

“We are aiming to minimize the risk of COVID-19 in our schools and the community, and thereby increase confidence for safe in-school learning,” said Dr. Richard Ellin, Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation board member and leader of the school testing project. “In addition, keeping the risk of COVID-19 transmission low allows the economy to remain open, helps businesses thrive and allows people to remain employed. This program benefits the entire community, not just the schools.”

There has been a weekly increase of both students and teachers signing up for the program since it began. The testing project is planned to continue weekly through Dec. 18 except for Thanksgiving week, provided in-person learning continues.

The testing process has been relatively easy and results have been returned in just a few days time thus far in the program.

“We had our COVID-19 testing, provided by the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation. It was quick, efficient, and easy,” Brad Hughes, parent and teacher at Summit Charter said. “By Friday, I had received my results, as well as my children’s results.  It has already been a wonderful way to give my wife and me peace of mind as we work, and send our children to school, during a pandemic.”

Highlands School teacher Cathy McIntyre-Ross agreed that the program offers a little peace of mind in what has been a challenging school year thus far for students, teachers and parents.

“The COVID-19 testing program that is being provided by the Highlands Cashiers Hospital Foundation has really eased my mind and lowered my anxiety,” McIntyre-Ross said. “Being 65, my risk is greater for the virus. But even if I was 25, I would still want to be tested weekly for many reasons – the main one being that I want our school to stay open. The more students, faculty, and staff that are tested, the greater the chance we can contain an outbreak and stay on campus for in-person learning.”

While keeping school facilities open and returning education to a more normal routine is a positive byproduct of the testing program, Dr. Walter Clark, who serves as the foundation board chair, noted that public safety is the driving force behind the testing program.

 “The whole idea is to protect our children, faculty and staff from spreading the virus to each other, their families and surrounding communities,” Clark said. “Each school brings great value to our community. Our Board believes this substantial investment is vital to the health and safety of everyone on the plateau.” 

Clark added that the testing program is the kind of need that the foundation can fill in the community when unexpected health threats, such as COVID-19 arise.

“It is just the kind of project we like to undertake,” he said. “One that no one else is doing or would do, and yet one that will have significant positive impact. We hope our community will join us in this initiative.”