Vt. education officials release COVID testing protocols

Published: Oct. 1, 2021 at 5:05 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont education officials Friday released final guidance on new coronavirus testing protocols in schools. It comes as some schools have struggled with rising COVID case counts while also trying to continue in-person instruction.

The new Test to Stay program seeks to keep as many kids in the classroom as possible. Normally, if one student would test positive, their surrounding close contacts would have to quarantine for seven days. Under the new program, if asymptomatic, the close contacts would be able to come to school and take antigen tests every day over the course of a week and continue to attend classes if results were negative. If a student declines to participate, they will have to stay home.

It’s the first time the less accurate antigen testing has been used in Vermont schools. State health officials say it’s now an appropriate tool because community transmission of the virus is so much higher than last summer. “The reliability of a test becoming positive after being negative and indicating someone has become infected is very, very high,” said Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.

Vermont-NEA officials say teachers generally support the idea but that the proof will be in the details. Many school nurses and staff were overwhelmed by surveillance testing and contact tracing for dozens of kids. “There is just a dearth of folks to carry out these extra duties. As always -- our members, everybody involved in the school day frankly -- their chief concern is the safety and security of their students, but they want to teach,” said the Vermont-NEA’s Darren Allen.

Unlike PCR tests, antigen tests are easier and quicker to administer, and the results come back faster too. Education Secretary Dan French says this should give districts some flexibility in who can administer them. “Nurses still need to supervise the data piece but it doesn’t require a nurse to administer the test itself, so there is a place for a layperson to help and make the administrative process work more seamlessly,” he said.

But for smaller schools, that may require bringing on more staff, which the Vermont-NEA says could be a challenge.

Officials say families will hear directly from their schools about testing programs and schools will receive additional resources and information next week.

Information can be found on the Agency of Education’s COVID-19 Testing Family Resources webpage and COVID-19 Response Testing At-A-Glance.

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