BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — The Buffalo Public School District says it is now in need of a new COVID-19 testing provider.
Buffalo Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash issued a letter to the school community Monday saying the district learned that Affinity Empowering would be “ceasing operations effective immediately.”
Affinity had been conducting the district’s in-school COVID-19 testing for students and staffers.
In the letter, Cash noted Affinity was “recommended to the District by the Erie County Department of Health and paid for by the Federal Government.”
According to Cash, the company had been working in city schools since September of this year, when students returned to full in-person, five days a week learning.
The superintendent said school principals received an email from Affinity’s parent company, Clinical Enterprise, late Friday evening informing the schools of the change.
“As superintendent, I still have not received any such notification, verbally or in writing from Affinity or the ECDOH,” Dr. Cash wrote.
Superintendent Dr. Cash said the district’s Medical Advisory Team has reviewed what he calls a “troubling development” with staff and “expects to find an immediate alternative to Affinity so that we can continue the more reliable PCR testing with the aim of decreasing the occurrence of both symptomatic and non-symptomatic Covid-19 in our schools.”
In the letter, the superintendent said the district also continues to seek consent to vaccinate 5 to 18-year-old students and has made repeated requests.
“When the vaccine was made available in several of our community schools, the ECDOH posted the information 'first-come-first-served' to their website, and suburban families flocked to our schools to receive the vaccine for their children. On many occasions, I have requested vaccines from Governor Hochul and local health officials to be sent to us directly. In large urban school districts, schools are the epicenters of their communities. Our families trust us. Make the vaccines available to us directly and we will deliver them with greater equity,” stated Dr. Cash.
Cash stated the district is prepared to administer vaccines.
“We have the facilities, the pediatricians, the school nurses, the cleaning staff, the transportation systems, the communications systems, the security teams, and the necessary refrigeration to get the job done effectively. Provide us 50,000 vaccines directly to start, and we will get the first dose done in two weeks, and we can continue the sequence from there. This is a critical issue, and we are at a critical juncture,” Cash wrote.
The district declined an interview. The district said the vendor is paid by the federal government and the ECDOH provides the vendor.
7 Eyewitness News reached out to the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) seeking a response on a testing provider for the city school district and if the district would be able to administer COVID vaccines.
We received the following response from ECDOH:
Buffalo Public Schools was working with Affinity Testing for COVID-19 screening testing; they chose to use a different source of funding – OET – and vendor – Affinity - for this service. Most other schools and school districts in the county are working with our department. We became aware that Affinity would no longer be available for COVID-19 testing on Monday morning, and since then, have been working internally and through meetings with BPS administration to fill the gap in service that they are now facing. Our school team is working with BPS to integrate their testing needs into our existing screening program.
Our department was disappointed that Dr. Cash’s remarks did not mention and highlight the meaningful and productive work that community health workers have been doing this fall. CONECT and its network of organizations have been meeting weekly with ECDOH and BPS to plan COVID-19 vaccine clinics within Buffalo Public Schools, with important, culturally and linguistically responsive educational supports for parents and families. Our COVID-19 vaccine team has provided nearly 900 doses through these school-based clinics, and that work will continue.
7 Eyewitness News also asked Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz about the issue at a county COVID briefing Tuesday.
Poloncarz said they had "no warning" the company was dropping the district, but has offered a new provider to the city schools.
"The county has offered currently another one of our sources to the school district. It’s in the school district’s hands to determine if they will use that," responded Poloncarsz.
The statement says the "NYSDOH has a process for ordering COVID-19 vaccines that BPS’ medical directors would be able to access" and provided this link on how providers order vaccines.