Keeping Kids Safe: Pa. health officials announce on-site testing, COVID vaccines in schools

Keeping Kids Safe

ENOLA, Pa. (WYTV) – Pennsylvania health officials announced Monday two initiatives they are hoping will keep kids in class and school sports going for the year.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is directing vaccine providers to support COVID-19 vaccination clinics at schools and colleges by providing on-site vaccination clinics.

Vaccine providers will be expected to make every effort to coordinate a vaccine clinic for the employees, contractors, volunteers, students, or students’ families of the school. 

Testing will also be provided at schools. A partnership was announced with Concentric by Ginkgo Bioworks (Ginkgo) to provide free COVID-19 testing in K-12 schools across the commonwealth to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and outbreaks in schools during the 2021-2022 school year. 

“A priority of the Wolf Administration is to have and maintain in-person instruction, sports programs, and other extra-curricular activities at schools,” said Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam. “Unfortunately, we continue to see predominately unvaccinated Pennsylvanians infected with multiple variants of COVID-19, including the highly contagious Delta variant. This reinforces the need for accessible COVID-19 vaccinations for eligible individuals in K-12 schools so that our students, teachers and staff can stay safe.” 

Funding for the initiatives comes from nearly $338 million in federal U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funds allocated to Pennsylvania to detect, diagnose, trace and monitor COVID-19 and prevent its spread in schools.

“The program alerts schools quickly if COVID-19 is present within the classroom or the school environment. Early detection like this is exactly what we need to keep students in classrooms and COVID out,” Beam said.

Both vaccination and testing initiatives exclude Philadelphia County, as Philadelphia Department of Public Health has its own federal funding for these initiatives.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people who are fully vaccinated and have a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 be tested three-to-five days after exposure and to wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result. Otherwise, the department recommends getting tested if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.  

K-12 Testing Program

Pooled classroom testing, which combines anterior nasal swab samples from all consenting individuals in a classroom and runs them as a single test, is a simple and scalable way to easily test many students at once while minimizing resource strain. Pooled testing is a strategy that builds on many measures undertaken by schools and public health systems, including vaccination, symptom screening, physical distancing and facilities improvements, masks/face coverings, hand hygiene, use of personal protective equipment, and monitoring of return to school after illness.  

“We encourage Pennsylvania’s schools to continue to coordinate COVID-19 vaccination clinics and participate in the free COVID-19 testing program to help protect their communities and maintain healthy conditions,” said Secretary of Education Noe Ortega.

For K-12 schools that participate, pooled testing will be performed weekly to identify and prevent the spread of COVID-19 throughout the schools. Mid-nasal swab and saliva-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests will be performed. The turnaround time for testing results is 1-2 days after testing. Testing is voluntary, but cooperation will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 throughout the school and mitigate a school shutdown. This $87 million testing contract will run throughout the 2021-2022 school year.  

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Mel Robbins Main Area Middle

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