OPRF High School

District 200 officials have responded to a New York Times article published on March 30 about New Trier High School’s use of SafeGuard Surveillance for conducting its COVID-19 saliva screening program.

According to the New York Times report, at the time that it was chosen by New Trier to do surveillance testing, SafeGuard “had not been certified to run a testing program of its kind, led by a scientist who was not qualified under federal guidelines to run a diagnostic lab. The saliva test the lab used was neither vetted nor authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.

“The test relies on a widely used technology, but a study describing its uses has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal nor validated by independent experts. According to federal guidelines, the assay should not be used to identify potentially infected students,” said the article.

Oak Park and River Forest High School has been using SafeGuard since the D200 school board approved a contract with the company on Jan. 14 that is not to exceed $411,400. At the time, OPRF officials said they anticipated that more than 2,000 tests would be conducted on students and staffers each day.

The surveillance testing is one aspect of OPRF’s COVID-19 mitigation process since students returned to hybrid learning on Feb. 1.

In a statement released March 31, D200 officials said, “saliva screening has identified seven cases of COVID-19 among our students and staff, all of them asymptomatic.”

In the statement, D200 officials pointed out that they “have always been clear” that SafeGuard is not a diagnostic test.

“All individuals who test positive on the screener are referred to their doctor or a state testing site to confirm a COVID-19 diagnosis,” D200 officials stated. “This identification has helped protect the school as well as those individuals’ family, friends, and our greater community.”

They added that SafeGuard has adapted “an internationally recognized” process for identifying “hundreds of COVID-19 cases that were later confirmed by lab testing at the numerous area schools that use this particular low-cost and highly accurate screening method.”

In a statement responding to the New York Times article, New Trier officials expressed their disappointment in the article, “which contains inaccuracies and omits several important points about the program, including how the program has been authorized to operate under guidance from the federal Department of Health and Human Services and the fact that it has successfully identified hundreds of cases of COVID-19.”

New Trier officials added that they shared letters with the New York Times “from government officials that oversee screening regulation confirming the program’s lawful operation as well as the success stories, studies, and numerous endorsements from the scientific community — all of which the story omitted. 

“New Trier has also met with local and state health authorities to review our use of the program and they have not directed us to change our use of it. From the time the program began, New Trier has been clear that the saliva program is non-diagnostic and must be confirmed by a lab test. To suggest otherwise is false.”

D200 officials said they “concur with New Trier’s statement,” adding that their lawyers have reviewed OPRF’s screening program and that they are “confident that it is an appropriate and useful part of our multi-layered approach to mitigating the spread of COVID-19.”

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