CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — The Wolf Administration announced two new vaccine and testing initiatives, which they say will support schools and preserve in-person education during the pandemic.
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This announcement comes as many school districts prepare for the return to the classroom. In March, the Wolf Administration prioritized teachers, administrators, and school staff by offering the first allotment of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Starting on Monday, Aug. 16, the Pa. Department of Health is directing vaccine providers to support COVID-19 vaccination clinics at institutions of higher education, as well as, K-12 schools. A partnership with Concentric by Ginkgo Bioworks was also announced in order to provide free COVID-19 testing in K-12 schools across the commonwealth.
“Unfortunately, we continue to see predominately unvaccinated Pennsylvanians infected with multiple variants of COVID-19, including the highly contagious Delta variant,” Alison Beam, acting secretary of health, said. “This reinforces the need for accessible COVID-19 vaccinations for eligible individuals in K-12 so that our students, teachers and staff can stay safe.”
Pennsylvania is not the only state that is taking a serious look at vaccinations and educators. Last week, California became the first state to require all teachers and school staff to get vaccinated.
Last week, Gov. Wolf announced his “vaccine or test” initiative for some state employees in state health care facilities and high-risk congregate settings. If an employee does not get the vaccine, a weekly COVID test is required.
Funding for the initiatives announced on Aug. 16 comes from $338 million in federal CDC funds allocated to Pa. to “detected, diagnose, trace and monitor COVID-19 and prevent its spread in schools.” The state will pay a third-party vendor $87 million to do mass testing for any school that agrees.
The Department of Education recommends that schools use the We Can Do This On-Site Vaccination Clinic Toolkit, in order to work directly with vaccine providers to set up clinics.
“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,” Beam said.
For K-12 schools participating in free COVID-19 testing, pooled testing will be performed weekly to identify and prevent the spread of COVID-19 throughout the schools. The tests will be mid-nasal swab and saliva-based PCR tests with the turnaround time for testing results being within 1-2 days after testing.
For more information, visit PDE’s website.