GDOE satisfied with 1st day of COVID employee testing; says it ‘went well’

Guam Department of Education (PNC file photo)

Despite some teachers protesting the COVID vaccination and testing mandate, the Guam Department of Education is satisfied with the preparations and turnout during the first day of COVID testing for its employees, although final figures for the turnout are still not available.

GDOE kicked off the COVID testing of its unvaccinated employees on Monday as required by the governor’s executive order.

“It went well. We met with division heads and school administrators to go through protocols and the review of necessary documents needed by Public Health and GDOE Human Resources Division last week to prepare for the first day of testing,” said GDOE deputy superintendent Erika Cruz.

All public schools and GDOE headquarters are designated testing sites with three employees (nurses as the leads) who have been trained by Public Health to administer the Binax COVID test.

“This addresses the over 300 employees who require weekly testing. Each school and headquarters employee have scheduled times and dates for their weekly testing to ensure that operations are not affected. Guam Memorial Hospital has also provided training on the proper disposal of all biohazard waste,” Cruz said.

There were some people who were unable to take the test.

Cruz said there were two who produced a doctor’s note for testing exemption and two who refused to be tested.

“Those were the only numbers that were reported to me,” Cruz said.

She added that medically exempt employees were able to remain at work and the two who refused testing were sent home as required by the Department of Administration circular.

Earlier, GDOE superintendent Jon Fernandez said every school has a nurse, and the school nurse, working with the administrator, has a list of the employees who need to test.

“They’re given the flexibility to designate what day and what time the employees can test so that they’re not all doing it at one time and they can spread it out during the week and make it easier to administer. So based on that, we’re going to go forward on Monday and we can give a status update of how things have gone,” the GDOE superintendent said.

He added that there will be consequences if employees refuse to be vaccinated or tested.

“My understanding is that if they do not comply with the vaccination or testing options, number one, they are not to be allowed to come on campus. This is something that we’re working to make sure we understand and confirm. At any government agency, if you don’t comply, you’re not supposed to report to work, and those employees will then need to resort to annual leave, or, if they don’t have any leave, leave without pay,” the GDOE superintendent said.

In GDOE’s situation, Fernandez said if their employees don’t comply and are not able to come to school, they will have to basically take annual leave, or leave without pay.

“For teachers … of course, we’re concerned about losing any teachers … but teachers don’t normally have annual leave, so they have three days of personal leave. Once they exhaust those, that would also be leave without pay. So again, once we get through this week, we’ll be able to determine who’s compliant and who’s not compliant,” the GDOE superintendent said.

According to Fernandez, notices were already sent last week to the employees who are required to test, and this includes those who may have received only the first dose of vaccination.

“We are also inviting those employees who have said that they won’t vaccinate or test at all. We’re going to go in and give them an opportunity to comply. All in all, the updated list that we have is about 350 employees who are required to be tested, spread out across the schools, and division offices,” Fernandez said during a media briefing Wednesday.

He described the GDOE employee testing as “a rather large operation” but said they did get all the necessary authorizations from Public Health.

“We also met with administrators to make sure they were clear on procedures and responsibilities and how often they need to be reporting compliance to our human resources office. The notices were sent out to employees so they understand that testing will commence,” Fernandez said.

As for the protesting teachers, Cruz said it’s a personnel matter that is why GDOE is not commenting on the matter.

“But every individual has the right to express how they feel and we respect that,” she said.