Photo by Rachel Feinstein

PAUSD restricts Cubberley COVID-19 testing services to staff, students as Omicron cases surge

Superintendent Don Austin restricted the Cubberley Community Center’s COVID-19 testing services to PAUSD members Jan. 10 due to an increased demand for testing amid the recent surge in cases.

Under the new restrictions, parents and community members will no longer be allowed to receive COVID-19 testing at the Cubberley facility, a decision that came the same day PAUSD announced its “1 Palo Alto” program asking parent volunteers to help fill staffing shortages on district campuses.

Austin said he came to the decision after visiting the Cubberley clinic on Jan. 4, citing the three-hour long wait times and limited availability of tests for the change.

“I stood out there with the community from 7 in the morning to 6 at night,” Austin said. “That was when it (became) obvious to me that (our) people needed testing, and no one else was providing it.”

Austin said when Cubberley’s COVID-19 testing facility opened in November, PAUSD’s COVID-19 case count was low, making it feasible to provide testing to the entire Palo Alto community. Because of the surge in cases caused by the Omicron variant, Austin said the change was necessary to ensure the health of the district’s students and staff.

“In this case, I had to prioritize our schools,” Austin said. “Students, teachers and classified staff were standing in three-hour lines, and that made (the clinic) a bad resource for us.”

In the two days since the change, Austin said the wait times at Cubberley have already dropped from three hours to now only a few minutes. Austin said he plans to further expand testing accessibility to students and staff by extending Cubberley’s closing time on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Freshman Tyler Kramer said although the current changes have helped significantly, he hopes the district implements a later closing time throughout the week to better accommodate both student and staff schedules and reduce missed instructional time.

“The line was probably three times as long before the restriction,” Kramer said. “But I think it would be even better if (testing) went until 6 p.m. everyday so students could go over there after school.”

Austin said family members of PAUSD staff can still be tested at the Cubberley clinic, but only if accompanied by a staff member. Family members of students, however, will be forced to look elsewhere, Austin said, calling for other local facilities to increase their availability and accessibility to testing.

“The city and other avenues need to step up,” Austin said. “Places like Kaiser and the county need to take care of the other parts of the community that our capacity is limited to.”

Sophomore An Tran said she is concerned by the change as the lack of a local testing facility could discourage widespread testing.

“Because community members are not able to get tested (at Cubberley), COVID-19 could be spread from family members to staff and students,” Tran said.

Even so, Austin said restricting testing to staff and students allows for safer, in-person learning — a solution he said he believes is most beneficial to the district as a whole.

“We can’t be everything for everyone,” Austin said. “But we’re trying our best.”