As schools across the U.S. are re-opening to in-person classes, some school districts are preparing to roll out weekly COVID-19 testing of the students and staff, whether they have been vaccinated or not.
The Los Angeles Unified School District confirmed the plans on July 29, stating that the requirement complies with the Los Angeles County Department of Health, which has seen surging cases of virus infection. Superintendent Megan K. Reilly said that the testing would start as early as August 2 since some school staff has already been reporting for work, but most schools will not open until August 16.
Reilly added that they are working together with various health partners and providers to create a safe environment. Aside from the weekly tests, the preparations also include changing the air filtration system at public schools, enforcing physical distancing, and mandating face masks for all students, staff or school visitors.
The superintendent also said that vaccination is ultimately the best protection against COVID-19 and the more contagious Delta variant.
Cash Incentives for Testing, Vaccination
Weekly COVID-19 testing and vaccination will also be conducted at all public schools in New Orleans. While the school district will set up mobile sites, the New Orleans Public Schools system clarifies that this will not be a mandatory rule and will require the parents' consent for minors.
However, reports cited that there will be cash incentives from the state's Department of Health for those who get the weekly tests or vaccination. The Louisiana school board is still coordinating with the agency for the amount of the payouts.
About 84 percent of new COVID-19 cases in Louisiana are classified as Delta variants, while hospitalization has increased to more than 1,500. Meanwhile, the vaccination rate is still at 15 percent. In May, Gov. John Bel Edwards lifted the face mask mandate, but indoor masking is still recommended in New Orleans regardless of the vaccination status.
In Delaware, on-site weekly COVID-19 testing will also be available for students and staff. The state has chosen an outside vendor to provide the deep nasal swab tests, which have a 24-hour result turnaround time to facilitate "quick identification of cases" and isolation of positive individuals to keep the school environment safe from the transmission. Permission from the parents will also be required before the kids are tested.
Balancing Decisions with Mitigation Efforts
Experts acknowledged that schools would have different protocols for these expensive testing programs. While the federal government has allocated $10 billion for this plan, the process could be effective for some school districts and not for others.
The process should also have a solid plan if a member of the school community did turn up with a positive test, which should be followed with contract tracing and quarantine procedures. Schools must also be prepared in cases in-person classes have to be canceled.
A study of 200 schools in the U.K., which had COVID-19 testing precautions in place from April to June 2021, revealed that transmission has been under two percent only. Some experts, however, argue that the results do not provide conclusive evidence and the paper has yet to be peer-reviewed.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends frequent screenings of unvaccinated students and staff in areas with reported high transmissions. The CDC also recommended masking for everyone in the school setting regardless of their vaccination status.
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