Virginia Department of Health to provide aid to schools for COVID-19 testing

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 5:28 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - The Virginia Department of Health has introduced a new way to help schools test for COVID-19.

Virginia School Screening Testing for Assurance, also known as VISSTA, is a program that will introduce screening testing to schools. Screening testing is the “testing of asymptomatic people, so people who are not sick and don’t have any known exposure,” according to the Deputy Director of the Office of Epidemiology at the Virginia Department of Health Dr. Laurie Forlano.

Although testing can’t prevent the spread of disease on its own, it’s a tool most health experts recommend using, Forlano said.

“Testing is a layer of prevention that is intended to be combined with other mitigation strategies,” said Forlano.

The goal is to control the number of COVID cases in school.

“Testing programs can help detect those outbreaks earlier,” said Forlano.

For schools who opt in, vendors would provide tests for a selection of students, teachers and staff who volunteered for testing. The group would be tested, and the tests would be sent to the state. The tests would go in for pooled testing, which Folano said is more cost efficient.

If a group tests positive, they would know one person in the group had COVID-19. They would then follow up for additional testing.

Forlano says the program can be broken down into three parts. First, there are vendors to provide testing. Next, there’s at-home test kits.

“Those tests can be given to schools free of charge, so the person who is identified as close contacts or a person that might become sick at school could be tested promptly or be sent home with a test kit if that’s preferred,” Forlano said.

Finally, VDH can also provide funding and resources to schools to help with administration of tests and any necessary materials.

Staunton City Schools Superintendent Dr. Garett Smith says they are interested in the program.

“There are ways that you can indicate to VDH that your school division is interested. We’ve done all those things, and we’re just waiting for more details now,” Smith said.

Earlier this week, Staunton schools tabled a discussion on a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for staff. Smith says part of that decision was because of the VISSTA program and how affordable testing will be when the program is in full swing.

VDH says the program is thanks to a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The CDC awarded the Virginia Department of Health $257 million via a grant that focused on school screening testing,” Forlano said.

Augusta County Schools and Waynesboro City Schools say they haven’t decided if they plan to participate.

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