The Wolf Administration has announced two new COVID-19 vaccine and testing initiatives to support schools across the Commonwealth.
Starting Monday, Aug. 16, the Pennsylvania Department of Health is directing vaccine providers to support COVID-19 vaccination clinics at K-12 schools and institutions of higher education.
Also, a partnership with Concentric by Ginkgo Bioworks (Ginkgo) will provide free COVID-19 testing in K-12 schools across the commonwealth.
“A priority of the Wolf Administration is to have and maintain in-person instruction, sports programs, and other extra-curricular activities at schools,” Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said. “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 these initiatives comes from nearly $338 million in federal U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funds. Both vaccination and testing initiatives exclude Philadelphia County, as the Philadelphia Department of Public Health has its own federal funding for these initiatives.
Beginning at 12:01 a.m. August 16, an order by the Acting Secretary of Health went into effect, directing vaccine providers to coordinate vaccine clinics with school entities and institutions of higher education.
The clinics can be held at the school or a location agreed upon by the school and vaccine provider. If a provider is unable to coordinate a vaccination clinic with the school, the provider is responsible for directing the school to the Department of Health to be provided with contact information for other vaccine providers.
The United States Department of Education recommends schools use the We Can Do This On-Site Vaccination Clinic Toolkit for help working directly with vaccine providers to setup vaccination clinics.
“Despite COVID-19 vaccines being available for some individuals, adolescents under the age of 12 still cannot be vaccinated to protect themselves against the virus,” Beam continued. “That is why we are encouraging all K-12 schools to take advantage of a unique opportunity to bring COVID-19 testing into your schools free of charge. It is imperative that students, educators, and staff who feel they need or want a test, especially if they think they have been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms, have access to free COVID-19 testing. In addition to getting vaccinated, this testing initiative is another tool in our toolbox for schools to keep ‘Friday night lights’ shining brightly this year.”
K-12 Testing Program
The Wolf Administration’s partnership with Ginkgo allows K-12 school districts throughout Pennsylvania to take advantage of classroom testing and provide safer in-person environments for students and educators.
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, according to the DOH.
“Students and teachers across Pennsylvania are looking forward to returning to their classrooms for the new school year – let’s do everything we can to make sure they are safe while teaching, learning, and growing together,” said Secretary of Education Noe Ortega. “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.”
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.
“Pennsylvania’s intermediate units are honored to partner with the Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Education to assist schools with implementing multiple mitigation strategies in order to maximize in-person learning opportunities,” said Dr. John George, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units.
To support schools in the event a student tests positive for COVID-19, visit PDE’s website to access information on responding to COVID-19 cases in schools.
For the latest information for individuals, families, businesses and schools, visit “Responding to COVID-19” on pa.gov.
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