6 new COVID testing plans are rolling out as districts ease mask mandates
More personnel to help schools conduct COVID testing and guidance on incentivizing parents to opt-in highlight the latest pandemic prevention strategies the White House rolled out this week.
More than 96% of school districts are open full-time and in-person for all students this fall, the White House noted, even as districts across the country are now dropping mask mandates in droves as transmission rates drop. Here are the components of the new plan:
- Accelerated school-based screening for students and staff: District leaders will get assistance in navigating the logistics of quickly setting up testing programs through a partnership between the CDC, the Department of Education and The Rockefeller Foundation. Administrators can access The Rockefeller Foundation’s playbook to find step-by-step guidance on designing and implementing effective school testing programs that have been piloted in other districts.
- Holding weekly “office hours” to connect schools to national testing experts: Starting Nov. 2, administrators can join twice-weekly sessions to learn from experts on how to set up testing programs. This series, which will run through December, “is designed to help schools no matter where they are in setting up testing programs—from those who are just starting to those who are looking to sustain or expand participation in their existing programs,” the White House says.
- Publishing a start-up guide for schools launching screening programs: The Rockefeller Foundation’s new one-page start-up guide is intended to simplify the process of setting up testing programs by identifying key steps and the assistance available, and connecting schools to testing providers. Administrators can also get tips on forming a team to oversee testing and how to explain testing to parents in order to get them to opt-in.
- Access to a directory of testing providers: The CDC launched a new directory to connect schools with local testing providers already working with their state governments.
- Incentivizing parents and guardians to participate in testing: A new CDC fact sheet offers strategies for how to use COVID relief funds to offer incentives to parents or guardians whose children participate in testing.
- Additional personnel to help state health departments coordinate school-based testing: The CDC Foundation is providing staff to state health departments to coordinate and expand school-based COVID testing, contact tracing, and other public health activities. Schools can contact CDC at this link for more information.
“Strong school-based screening testing programs rely on robust participation from the school community to ensure that they can identify and remove infected individuals from the school before any COVID-19 infection can spread,” the White House says.
Schools districts were given access earlier this fall to $10 billion for COVID-19 testing for teachers, staff, and students in K-12 schools. Most states have used the money to set up centrally supported state contracts with testing providers, making it easier for schools to participate, the White House says.
Where schools are unmasking students
Districts all over the country, both large and small, continue to end their mask mandates at the same time the White House is encouraging K-12 leaders to ramp up COVID testing and more students are becoming eligible for vaccinations. With COVID rates dropping in most states, far fewer schools have shut down over the last several weeks compared to earlier this school year.
Several Louisiana districts dropped their mandates after Gov. John Bel Edwards on Oct. 26 allowed schools to go mask-optional if they continue to follow CDC guidelines. St. Tammany Parish Public Schools dropped its mask mandate on Oct. 27. Livingston Parish Public Schools and the Calcasieu Parish School Board went mask-optional on Oct. 28.
Terrebonne and Lafourche school districts also went mask-optional, Houma Today reported.
As of Monday, masks were optional in all Fulton County Schools as case rates have dropped after local transmission rates dropped below levels the large Georgia district had established for easing its mandate, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
“Good news has been coming in about the number of COVID-19 cases in Fulton County, which appear to have peaked and have been trending downward since early September,” the district said on its website. The recovery process will take more time; however, we are very proud of the efforts of our students and staff throughout the pandemic.”
In once turbulent Florida, Miami-Dade County Public Schools announced Nov. 1 that high school and middle school students can opt out of the district’s mask requirements, NBCMiami.com reported.
In Ohio, Lakota Local Schools on Monday was the latest in a wave of districts that have gone mask optional over the last several days. “If we see a spike in positive cases, we may choose to reinstate the mask requirement at any time,” the district said on its website.
And in West Virginia, Cabell County Schools relaxed its mask mandate on Nov. 1. “While we are pleased to see a significant improvement, our community is not quite out of the woods when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Superintendent Ryan Saxe said on the district’s website. “While we are announcing the tentative lifting of the masking requirement … we are also strongly encouraging all members of our school community to continue protecting themselves and others by wearing a mask whenever possible.”