Four instances of contractors unable to staff schools as worker shortage affects District 203 SHIELD COVID-19 testing program


Nathan Yuan

Freshman Jason Henrikson taps the test tube on his hand to move the spit sample through the funnel while SHIELD testing at Naperville Central on Dec. 6.

Nathan Yuan, News Editor

District 203’s program to offer free weekly COVID-19 SHIELD testing has been affected by the recent worker shortage.  In the past nine weeks, there have been four instances, including one at Naperville Central on Wednesday, Oct. 20, where HRSupport, the third party District 203 contracted to collect samples, was unable to send staff to the schools.

HRSupport “had a staffing problem on [Oct. 20] morning,” Naperville Central Principal Bill Wiesbrook said. “Not enough staff were available, so they didn’t have human beings to send to Naperville Central to run the SHIELD test on Wednesday.”

The incident on Oct. 20 reflects a pervasive problem, said Patrick Nolten, the Assistant Superintendent for Assessment and Accountability and coordinator of District 203’s SHIELD testing program. All four instances where HRSupport was unable to send staff to collect samples were due to staffing issues.

“There’s a lot of struggle right now in the labor market in general with recruiting and maintaining employees,” Nolten said. “HRSupport is no different. They struggle with the same thing. They very quickly across Illinois had to step up to serve us. They’ve had to maintain staff, schedule and keep employees everywhere.”

The testing program was affected by staffing issues the most during the first three to four weeks, Nolten said.

“It’s taken a lot of communication [to solve this problem],” Nolten said. “It’s taken an awful lot of my time to clarify expectations at schools to clarify where they need to be, what time they need to show up, what the rules are.”

Currently, a median of 170 students from Naperville Central are tested weekly, out of a school of 2,600. In District 203, about 5,000 to 5,500 students are tested weekly, out of a district of 16,500 students. Since opting into the SHIELD Illinois testing program, District 203 has collected more than 38,000 samples from its students.

“It’s important [to get tested] because the primary intention is to identify, as early as possible, anybody who’s positive unknowingly, that could potentially spread it at home or at school,” Nolten said.

District 203’s Test to Stay program allows students that are close contacts to stay in school as long as they are tested one, three, five and seven days after their contact. As long as the student continues to test negative, they will be allowed to stay in school.

“It’s really to keep kids in school and to keep the disease from spreading,” Nolten said. “It keeps kids in school and keeps kids safe.

Tests will be available for students at the PSAC on 203 W. Hillside Road between 3-7 p.m Monday-Friday, according to a District newsletter. The Test to Stay program began for K-6 students on Nov. 2. The program was expanded to all students on Nov. 29.

Currently, at Naperville Central, freshmen and sophomores are instructed to test on Monday, and upperclassmen are tested on Wednesday during their English classes. Students are also instructed to not eat or drink for an hour prior to testing. Students who have lunch before their English class may test at the beginning of their lunch period before eating.

Approximately 30% to 35% of students opted out of testing, leaving 60% to 65% of students eligible to test.