Lewiston School Superintendent Jake Langlais, left, has been innovating and adapting COVID-19 procedures on the fly over the course of the pandemic. Friday afternoon he was at Lewiston Middle School going over plans for a drive-through testing for staff next week at the middle school. With the help of St. Mary’s Health Care, Lewiston school nurses will test swabs they collect, like the one Lewiston High School nurse Melissa Gendron is holding, right. They were in the office of middle school nurse Wendie Bourgoin, middle. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — A drive-through COVID-19 testing site could be up and running at Lewiston Middle School on Central Avenue as early as Tuesday, according to school officials.

The partnership with St. Mary’s Health System would initially be used to offer rapid tests to staff, in an effort to get the district back into the classroom more quickly.

Superintendent Jake Langlais said Friday that if the rollout goes well, they may consider broadening the program to test students, if needed. They are hoping to offer the service for at least a two-day window next week to start, and could expand it based on volume.

The school district has been operating fully remote since students returned from the holiday break, and Langlais announced Thursday that the district was extending remote learning until Jan. 21.

“I’m really focused on how we can get back in school and stay in school as much as possible,” Langlais said Friday. “Being out of school is just really hard on families and teachers across the spectrum. It’s just not the same. So, the effort is to try to increase our capacity to test all those that we can.”

The district has been coordinating with St. Mary’s and the B Street Health Clinic throughout the pandemic, and Langlais said officials from the health system reached out regarding the possible rapid testing program.

Stephen Costello, executive director of philanthropy at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, confirmed the partnership Friday, stating that one of the biggest challenges for staff and students returning to school was access to testing.

He said the B Street Health Clinic is licensed for laboratory testing, and will use rapid antigen tests for the program.

Langlais and Costello said details are still being finalized, including staffing the service, but said staff from B Street and even school health staff could be involved.

Langlais said because the district has “student-based health centers” at the high school and middle school, they could choose from both. But due to staffing while the district is remote, he said they chose Lewiston Middle School.

“We’re going to try to get some teachers through next week if they wish,” he said. “It will help us identify the structure, and if we have to tweak and adjust we will.”

The district is hoping the testing program can be utilized enough so that staff can be regularly tested if they wish, and could eventually be used to test students. It’s too early to know if that’s a possibility, Langlais said.

Langlais said once the program is vetted through the trial period, and based on its results, the district may look at using the infrastructure to conduct COVID-19 vaccinations for staff, once available.

The drive-through will be located in the parking lot between the middle school and the Lewiston Armory.

In his initial announcement Jan. 4, Langlais said the district would utilize all remote learning after a wave of positive COVID-19 tests and multiple instances of close contacts identified among staff members and students.

In a letter to parents, Langlais said that since Dec. 30, he had received “numerous notifications of COVID-19 positive tests and/or close contact situations that will impact our operations,” that were spread out over nearly every school in the district.

He also said he had “become aware of staff and families that spent time with loved ones over the break that have not been able to arrange for a COVID-19 rapid test due to limited availability,” and he didn’t want to take any risk allowing those staffers or students into district schools.

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