State health agency offers schools support for COVID-19 testing when classes resume

By: - June 22, 2021 5:39 pm
students at desks in classroom wearing masks for COVID-19 coronavirus prevention teacher also wearing mask bending over to help student

School children wearing masks (Stock photo | Getty Images)

Along with pop quizzes, math tests and English tests, Wisconsin schools will be equipped to give students another kind of test starting in the fall semester: COVID-19 tests.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) will provide public and private schools and school districts free testing supplies and connect them with area laboratories to make it fast and easy for them to test students, staff, teachers and families for infections with the coronavirus, DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said Tuesday.

“Our children under age 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine, and our vaccine rates for children 12 to 17 are still only around 25-30%, and much lower in some parts of the state,” Van Dijk told reporters during a news conference conducted online. “So this whole program is very important for us to be testing and detecting disease early in a population that is quite susceptible.”

The testing program is being offered for schools to opt in voluntarily. According to DHS it is being designed to make it easy to test a child who comes to school with a cough, a fever, congestion or other upper respiratory symptoms.

“Because testing can identify COVID-19 cases early, it provides the information our schools and parents need to keep their students and children safe and to prevent spread in our communities,” Van Dijk said.

In communities with higher rates of infection, the department will recommend periodic screenings for larger groups of students and employees. Schools may want to consider more intensive screening, such as before large school events, she added.

The testing is free to schools, employees and families. It will be funded by a $175 million grant under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). DHS is surveying schools and school districts to find out what sort of testing program they prefer and whether they will need outside personnel to help take test samples.


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.