Durham officials notify students after school employee at SAT test contracted coronavirus

Posted October 1, 2020 5:08 a.m. EDT
Updated October 1, 2020 3:35 p.m. EDT

— A Durham Public Schools employee who was at Hillside High School last weekend while the SAT test was being administered to hundreds of high school students has tested positive for coronavirus, officials said Thursday.

About 250 students were taking the college admissions test on Saturday, and "probably most of them" were from Durham, district spokesman Chip Sudderth said.

"When we found out about this, we did send robocall and email information to all of our high school students – families of all of those high school students in Durham – just to let them know," Sudderth said.

The district is working with the College Board, which runs the SAT, and area health departments to notify students outside of Durham who were taking the test of the possible exposure to the virus.

Durham school administrators haven't been notified of anyone who was in close contact with the infected employee, Sudderth said.

"We had social distancing measures in place at the SAT administration, so 6 feet or more of distance and mask requirements and all of that," he said. "We feel pretty confident that our students and the employees that were there are going to be all right."

Dr. Ibukun Akinboyo, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist with the Duke University Health System, agreed that an SAT test poses a low risk for virus transmission.

"The protocols that have been set in place to reduce the risk of infection or spread within a close setting, so for example, in this case, the school, should be more than enough to sufficiently reduce any risk of transmission," Akinboyo said. "Having at least 6 feet between students and students, and students and staff, it should be sufficient to reduce transmission in that setting."

The incident doesn't affect how Durham Public Schools handles larger events such as an SAT test, Sudderth said.

"There are things that our students need to succeed in life, and many of them that are going to certain colleges want the SAT on their record," he said. "So we’ve got to continue to be sensitive to health and safety and find the best and safest way to make these opportunities available."

Hillside High will remain closed until Friday morning for extensive cleaning. Few people are in the school anyway, as all classes are being taught online.

Meanwhile, the Southwest Elementary School Learning Center will be closed until Oct. 9 after an employee there tested positive for the virus.

Initially, that employee was considered low-risk for spreading the coronavirus. But school administrators said Thursday that so many employees at the center were forced to quarantine that it had to temporarily close down.

The employee did not contract the virus at school, according to officials.

There has been no transmission of the virus at a Durham Public Schools facility, district officials said.

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