Health board, school officials talk potential testing effort at Fayetteville High School

story.lead_photo.captionStephen Teague, a photography teacher at Fayetteville High School, helps distribute yearbooks with a special supplement Covid-19 Heartbreak to seniors Monday during a curbside pick-up and drop off at the school. Seniors were able to pick-up yearbooks, their caps and gowns, school records and also drop off textbooks and fine arts equipment. The pick-up and drop off will continue today from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. for seniors. Visit and for a photo gallery.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

FAYETTEVILLE — The city’s Board of Health wants to get a sample size of test results from high school students to potentially establish a baseline of covid activity in the community.

Board members met online via Zoom on Wednesday with Fayetteville’s School District officials to talk about the district’s testing and screening procedures. Melissa Thomas, health services director for the district, said so far the number of cases at the city’s schools has stayed relatively low. The district’s online dashboard reported 21 active cases among students as of Tuesday and two cases among staff. There are about 10,000 students and 1,400 staff members.

Students, staff or their family members can fill out an online form with basic questions about potential exposure or testing. Administrators and school health officials review the information, and from there, can provide guidance on what to do next, Thomas said. If the student, staff or family member gets tested, that information comes back to the district, she said.

“We have an ongoing verbal dialogue, as well as a written dialogue from the online reporting,” Thomas said. “That seems to be working well. We get a lot of reports.”

The board last week brought up testing at Fayetteville High School after several football players reported possible exposure to covid-19. Community Clinic subsequently set up a mobile testing event outside the school, but it garnered fewer than 10 volunteer tests.

Thomas said the School District can’t force students to take a test, but students can volunteer to get a test with parental permission. There is a clinic at Owl Creek School that can do covid tests, she said.

Board Chairman Hershey Garner with Highlands Oncology Group said the board should try to get up to 1,000 volunteer tests done at the high school to create a meaningful sample within the city. The idea would be to capture results of people who are asymptomatic or who were exposed and didn’t know it, he said.

“Is it not important for us to know, as a community, what our asymptomatic population positivity is?” Garner said. “What better way to do that than in a controlled environment like a school system?”

People tend to only get tests if they’re showing symptoms or suspect they’ve been exposed, said Marti Sharkey, the city’s public health officer. Getting a sample size could give a sense of how many cases percentage-wise are being missed in the city, she said.

“It’s trying to establish a baseline of what’s going on in the community, so that we know where to expect, potentially, the next outbreak and where we need to be concentrating resources, and what guidance we need to be providing for the city,” Sharkey said.

Test results could go directly to the board, whether Community Clinic, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences or the board itself takes lead on the effort, Sharkey said.

Thomas said she would take the proposal to district administrators and the Board of Education.

“I’m very open for us to have that conversation,” she said.

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Stacy Ryburn can be reached by email at or on Twitter @stacyryburn.

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