RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-Virginia has yet to roll out a statewide program for weekly testing in K-12 schools and the vast majority of localities have not formally agreed to participate.
Meanwhile, state data shows there have been 49 coronavirus outbreaks in schools in the last two weeks alone.
The Biden Administration provided states with $10 billion back in March to support routine testing of students, teachers and staff. He doubled down on the need for this prevention strategy last week when he rolled out a multi-step plan to combat the delta variant.
Dr. Laurie Forlano, Deputy Commissioner for Population Health, said the Virginia Department of Health is preparing to launch its program soon–hopefully in October.
“We had to go through an RFP process to select vendors. Those processes can be lengthy and detailed so that’s what took a little bit of time,” Forlano said when asked why the program wasn’t in place for the start of the school year. “We hoped we would have it in place by now. We look forward to that.”
While the state is supporting school testing by coordinating community events and assisting with outbreak investigations, Forlano said the Virginia School Screening Testing for Assurance (ViSSTA) program will provide an important layer of prevention.
The goal is to implement weekly pool testing. That’s when people without symptoms are screened in a group then retested in some cases if the batch comes back positive. If the pool comes back negative, everyone in the group is presumed negative. The method was widely used to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia’s nursing homes.
According to the program’s website, only students and staff who complete a required consent form will participate.
Localities will decide what groups they want to test based on their needs. Some may decide to target sports teams or certain staff. They may also use the tool surrounding special events like dances and school breaks.
School districts have to opt into the program to participate. According to a list provided by VDH, just 17 public school divisions and 11 private schools have formally committed.
Forlano said dozens of others have expressed interest, including several in the last two weeks that they are still coordinating meetings with.
“Some schools might be just responding to community hesitancy. A screening program, especially in the beginning, will reveal cases you might not have otherwise known about and that could be initially disruptive but in the long term it is really intended to catch those outbreaks sooner,” Forlano said.
Forlano said others have raised concerns about overseeing another prevention strategy.
“Some feedback we have heard is generally schools have a lot on their plate and so some schools might see this as another thing to do. We’re trying to mitigate that by making sure they have the resources they need,” Forlano said.
She said funding is available to support the cost of additional staff to coordinate the testing. The state can also help provide spaces like tents to administer the program.
If a pool shows up positive, Forlano said students and staff are not required to stay home before they get their confirmatory results. She said they would generally get a retest the next day but some vendors are capable of picking out the positive case in the batch without that step.
“The reason why we would allow those people to remain in school is because, if they are asymptomatic, they would have been there anyway if not participating in testing and we really want to try to incentivize people to participate in the program,” Forlano said. “If the school is more comfortable in wanting those persons to stay home until they get a result, that is perfectly acceptable.”
Below is a list of school divisions provided by VDH who have either committed to or expressed interest in the Virginia School Screening Testing for Assurance (ViSSTA) program.
Public school divisions committed to weekly testing program:
- Alexandria City Public Schools
- Bath County Public Schools
- Carroll County Public Schools
- Charlottesville City Schools
- Chesapeake Public Schools
- Colonial Beach Public Schools
- Dickenson County Public Schools
- Grayson County Public Schools
- Harrisonburg City
- Hopewell City Public Schools
- Madison County Public Schools
- Prince William County Schools
- Rockingham County Public Schools
- Suffolk Public Schools
- Tazewell County Public Schools
- Williamsburg-James City County
- Wise County Public Schools
Private schools committed to weekly testing program:
- Benjamin & Lillian Rochkind Yeshiva of Virginia
- Community High School
- Gesher- JDS
- Rudlin Torah Academy
- Springhouse Community School
- StoneBridge School
- Strelitz International Academy
- Tandem Friends School
- The Siena School
- Veritas School
- Washington International Academy
Public schools expressing interest in weekly testing program:
- Accomack County Public Schools
- Arlington Public Schools
- Brunswick County Public Schools
- Clarke County
- Colonial Heights Public Schools
- Danville Public Schools
- Fairfax County Public Schools
- Franklin City Public Schools
- Fredericksburg County Public Schools
- Galax City
- Giles County
- Greensville County Public Schools
- Henrico County Public Schools
- King and Queen County Public Schools
- King George County Public Schools
- Loudoun County Public Schools
- Lynchburg City Schools
- Maggie Walker Governor’s School
- Montgomery County Public Schools
- Newport News Public Schools
- Page County Schools
- Petersburg City Public Schools
- Portsmouth Public Schools
- Prince Edward County Public Schools
- Pulaski County Public Schools
- Radford City Schools
- Richmond City Public Schools
- Roanoke City Public Schools
- Rockbridge County
- Smyth County Public Schools
- Southampton County Public Schools
- Spotsylvania County Public Schools
- Staunton City Schools
- Surry County Public Schools
- Sussex County Public Schools
- Washington County Public Schools
- West Point
- Westmoreland County Public Schools
- Wythe County Public Schools
Private schools expressing interest in weekly testing program:
- Blue Ridge School
- Broadwater Academy
- Church Hill Academy
- Community School
- Eastern Mennonite School
- Enoch Christian Academy
- Grove Christian School
- Holy Cross Academy
- Ideaventions Academy for Mathematics & Science
- King Abdullah Academy
- Mountaintop Montessori
- New Covenant School
- Nysmith School
- Rivermont School Lynchburg South
- Sabot at Stony Point
- St Christopher’s School
- The Williams School