Head of school at the Atlanta Jewish Academy, Rabbi Ari Leubitz knows the challenges of creating a “COVID-compliant school,” a phrase he uses often in conversation.
As a recovering COVID patient himself, Leubitz understands the risks that the virus poses to the students, faculty and staff of AJA.
So he was pleased when Jewish HomeLife, in an effort facilitated by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, offered COVID-19 testing with relatively quick results to Atlanta’s Jewish day schools, pre-schools and after-school programs.
Testing of AJA’s 110 faculty, administrators and staff began Aug. 10. First up was the staff of the school’s early childhood development center, because its doors opened Aug. 13. Following the staggered return schedule for AJA’s 435 students, next to be tested would be staff from the lower grades, then the middle school, and finally the high school (whose students return after the High Holy Days), as well as teachers whose lessons will be virtual, to students attending from home.
“It’s very clear that there are certain elements of individuals who are more at risk,” Leubitz said. “We cannot remove all risk. Our responsibility is to mitigate it as much as possible.”
Through its COVID-19 emergency fund, Federation thus far has allocated $400,000 to the day schools and $100,000 to pre-schools to assist in their opening for the new school year. Jewish HomeLife received $348,000 from the fund to help purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) and pay for increased staffing in the nine senior residences that it operates at three Atlanta sites, as well as home care services. Now Federation has made $100,000 available to assist with staffing and other expenses as Jewish HomeLife coordinates the school testing program.
The testing program began with a phone call from Jodi Lox Mansbach, Federation’s chief impact officer, to Harley Tabak, the CEO of Jewish HomeLife. One theme Mansbach heard in the conference calls that Federation holds with various sectors of the Jewish community was that the schools wanted COVID-19 testing, to help reassure both staff and parents, but were unable to make the necessary arrangements.
JHL has gained experience in dealing with COVID-19, some of it from combatting outbreaks of the virus among staff and residents at the Berman Commons assisted-living facility. (As of Aug. 14, JHL reported no COVID-19 positive cases at its facilities.) From early in the pandemic, JHL steadily increased the amount of PPE worn by staff at its facilities, as well as cleaning protocols. Over time, it has secured access to dependable sources of PPE.
In addition, through Capstone Healthcare in Sandy Springs, JHL has access to so-called viral tests that identify the presence of COVID at the genetic level and have a higher degree of reliability and a lower rate of false positives than antigen tests. The commercial lab usually provides results in one to two days. “Capstone Healthcare is doing a solid service to Jewish Atlanta by not only supporting Jewish HomeLife with all our testing needs, but also now assisting us in providing accurate and sensitive testing for many Jewish day schools,” said Jeff Gopen, JHL’s chief operating officer.
The testing is being done by Nareen Bennett, JHL’s director of quality assurance, RN (registered nurse), and LaToya Clarke, its director of staff development and training, RN, with oversight by nurse practitioner Kara Gold. If the school has a nurse, all test results go to that office. In the absence of a school nurse, the school is informed about negative results, but JHL’s nurse practitioner will contact anyone receiving a positive result.
JHL receives the test kits from Capstone and returns the samples to the lab. JHL also enters into Capstone’s computer system the insurance information for every individual tested and the lab handles billing the insurance carriers. A provision in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, requires private health insurance plans to cover costs of testing to detect or diagnose COVID-19.
In addition to AJA, others that have signed on to the COVID-19 testing effort are: The Epstein School, Torah Day School of Atlanta, The Weber School, Hillels of Georgia, and Jewish Kids Groups. JHL also has done testing for some staff of Jewish Family & Career Services, a partner in the AgeWell Atlanta aging services program through Federation.
Each school will decide the degree of testing it wants. Some may make testing mandatory for faculty and staff, and perhaps students, while others may decide to test in the event of exposure to COVID-19 or if anyone develops symptoms.
Ana Robbins, executive director of JKG, an independent Hebrew school program, welcomed the access to COVID-19 testing. “Jewish HomeLife came out to Jewish Kids Groups’ teacher training and tested everyone. They made it so easy with release forms and labeled test tubes. All we did was show up and they quickly swabbed everyone. It didn’t even hurt too much,” Robbins said.
Mansbach said she was “incredibly, incredibly grateful” for the assistance provided to the schools by Tabak and the JHL staff. “I hope we can expand this to more of the Jewish workforce as coming back to work becomes more of a reality,” but for now the schools are the focus.
- atlanta jewish academy
- Rabbi Ari Leubitz
- Jewish HomeLife
- jewish federation of greater atlanta
- Jodi Lox Mansbach
- Harley Tabak
- Berman Commons
- Capstone Healthcare
- Nareen Bennett
- LaToya Clarke
- Kara Gold
- The Epstein School
- Torah Day School of Atlanta
- The Weber School
- Hillels of Georgia
- Jewish Kids Groups
- AgeWell Atlanta
- Jewish Family & Career Services
- Dave Schechter