Washington officials are anticipating a need for more COVID-19 testing as students, most of whom cannot be vaccinated, return to classrooms.
The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is relying on an increase in viral testing measures to keep classrooms from spreading the coronavirus, which they say is surging across the state.
DOH outlined a strategy Thursday to mitigate spread in schools, including a vaccination campaign for all eligible students, requiring staff to be vaccinated, a near-universal mask requirement and frequent COVID-19 testing in schools.
“School-based COVID testing should help give parents peace of mind,” Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said. “It’s part of a layered approach in our schools that will allow us to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Combining testing with broad vaccination, and then adding the four Ws of washing hands, wearing masks, watching distance, and using WA Notify is the best possible approach as we restart full-time, in-person learning.”
The state is offering districts different testing options in the “Learn to Return” testing program. In the release, DOH described one option as screening testing that it said “helps identify cases early to prevent potential outbreaks.”
DOH said the LTR program has expanded over the past several months, but it has yet to be universally accepted. Of the state’s 313 school districts, the department said “nearly 300” districts had adopted protocols.
The department originally partnered with testing companies Curative and Everlywell in 2020 but later expanded to include Abbot, BD, CIC Health and Atlas to better prepare for the coming school year.
Other states where students have returned to classrooms are experiencing isolated outbreaks of COVID-19 that, in some cases, have forced students to quarantine.
The state has implemented some of the most strict masking and vaccination requirements in the country. Schools refusing to comply face a loss of state funding.
“If local education agencies willfully do not comply with health and safety requirements, OSPI will follow the process and timeline described in WAC 392-117-070 through WAC 392-117-085 to provide notice and time to come into compliance, and eventually withhold funds if noncompliance continues,” the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction said.