Virus test conducted recently as Branson builds testing strategies


By Shun Graves

A voluntary COVID-19 test offered to the entire Branson community Aug. 29 produced no positive tests — and reflected the school’s growing COVID-19 plans, though still nascent, as it faces the prospect of a return to campus.

Emily Easom, Branson’s COVID coordinator, said approximately 165 people — students, staff, faculty and family members — received COVID-19 PCR tests that day. The school staggered the testing on the 29th to prevent people from congregating.

“On the 29th, we had 30-minute increments: We scheduled x amount of people from 8:30 to 9, x amount of people from 9 to 9:30, and we did that all the way ’til about 1 o’clock,” Easom said.

However, the school continues to consider how often members of the community should be tested. 

“We are working towards getting testing required,” she said. “That would just provide a safer environment — a calmer environment.”

Branson has been auditioning several COVID-19 testing strategies this school year, as the school community anticipates the campus to reopen by mid-October. Some of the tests so far have been offered to staff, though in the future, testing could even “be offered to … neighbors or alumni,” Easom said.

According to a letter sent to families on Sept. 30, Branson has partnered with AgileForce/PMH Laboratories to offer on-campus testing for students and employees every two weeks in the fall. 

Easom also noted how the school continues to learn from its testing. “We’re trying to figure it out as it goes,” she said. “We learn so much from each testing day, and that’s crucial, and we’re taking those positives — no pun intended — the positives from the testing days and building off that.”

Nevertheless, the school has ascertained a protocol for handling suspected cases: Officials have created a COVID-19 isolation space on campus, as well as guidelines surrounding test results, which may be administered by the school or an outside provider, according to Easom.

Suspected cases must quarantine, after being transferred home from the isolation space, until a negative test result arrives. If a positive result returns, the student’s cohort must quarantine at home for 14 days, Easom said.

Meanwhile, various COVID-19 tests continue to be conducted as the planned back-to-campus date approaches.

“We have different testing days planned in the future, a couple this month, and then a couple next month, and then we’ll keep going,” Easom said. “It may be on a weekend, it may be on a weekday, we’ll see what happens.”

Rachel Kim, a Branson music instructor, received a test administered by Branson recently. “It was very smooth and efficient and quick,” she said.

Members of the community who have not been tested yet, however, are slightly apprehensive to the tests, which often occur through nasal swabs.

“I’m kind of scared getting tested, to be honest. I’ve seen videos of it, and I’ve also heard that for some people that it hurts, some people that it’s uncomfortable,” sophomore Sophie Liu, who has not participated yet in any testing, said. “But I would be OK with getting tested, because I’d feel very bad if I’m going around and spreading corona[virus], and I obviously don’t want to do that, so I’ve tried to be cautious around when I’m with people.”

Easom acknowledged the slightly intrusive nature of the testing techniques, but nonetheless advised people to be tested. 

“We try [to] stay away from that invasive stick a Q-tip way up your nose, I get it’s uncomfortable,” she said. “But, get tested if you have the opportunity.”

Easom further recommended testing by linking it to the possible return to campus. “I highly recommend everyone getting tested, especially if the Branson School and our community is providing those opportunities, it can only benefit us as a whole; we want to get back on campus, we want you guys back on campus, we want faculty and staff back on campus,” she said. “So, I’m going to hammer it home that if you have the opportunity to get tested, go for it.”