RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A new coronavirus testing strategy coming soon to some Virginia schools aims to cut down on disruptive quarantines and keep more students in the classroom. It’s still unclear where resources for the program will come from and how many school districts will buy in, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
VDH’s Deputy Commissioner for Population Health Dr. Laurie Forlano said the state is hoping to kick start ‘test-to-stay’ programs in early January and release initial guidance in the coming days. She said they’re planning to start off with a handful of schools before expanding the pilot, though participation won’t be required.
The efforts comes after the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently backed another option for schools dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks, clarifying that close contacts of students infected with COVID-19 can keep going to school even if they’re unvaccinated, as long as they continue to test negative.
Forlano said those students would still have to avoid other activities, like parties and team practices, during the quarantine period.
“If you’re a fully vaccinated person or student with a close contact currently you’re not required to quarantine. You are recommended to be tested and watch your symptoms,” Forlano said. “If you want to avoid the disruption of quarantine, which I agree is disruptive, getting vaccinated is the safest and the most efficient way to to do that.”
The strategy was already being used in other places before the federal government formally endorsed it. Previously, CDC guidelines instructed unvaccinated students in close contact with a person who tested positive to stay out of school and quarantine for 10 days.
The agency shifted its stance after reviewing initial investigations showing that implementing the test-to-stay approach alongside layered prevention strategies demonstrated low transmission in the school setting.
Forlano said it’s still unclear what resources the state will be able to provide localities interested in implementing a test-to-stay program. She said the strategy is resource-intensive in terms of staff and test kits.
“Ideally test-to-stay uses rapid tests. That’s kind of the point is that you have in your results quickly. So while we do have some of those in our inventory and are seeking more, there there are supply chain issues nationally,” Forlano said.
It’s also unclear how many school districts will decide to participate. Forlano said they’re already hearing from some eager localities but interest in a school pool testing program previously came up short.
“I expect similar variability of interest,” Forlano said.