The Vermont Department of Health has updated its COVID-19 school virus testing programs. The former program, named “Test to Stay,” had allowed students to go to school even if they were in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Once at school, students got a rapid antigen test, which showed results in 15 minutes, and then, if negative, they were allowed to go to classes as usual.
With the new updated protocols, called “Test at Home,” families make use of rapid antigen tests before they even go to school. Test at Home moves the location of the testing to at-home, before school, giving families flexibility and reducing the logistical burden on schools, families, and students. Schools still have access to in-school antigen tests, as well as PCR and other tests, to respond to students who become symptomatic at school or who may have difficulty testing at home.
These changes, which go into effect as soon as schools have the tests necessary to implement them, are designed to allow students and staff to remain safely in the classroom as much as possible.
State officials said the speed at which the Omicron variant spreads means that the current strategy is too slow and logistically burdensome to be workable for many schools. This new approach addresses the current state of the pandemic in Vermont by allowing schools to respond more quickly and reducing the burden of contact tracing and testing on staff, which will help schools stay open and functioning as normal as possible.
Like Test to Stay, the Test-at-Home initiative makes use of rapid antigen tests to keep students and staff safe and in school. Schools still have access to in-school antigen tests, as well as PCR and other tests, to respond to students who become symptomatic at school or who may have difficulty testing at home.
“These changes reflect the realities we now face with the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus. This approach reflects our recognition that while the new variant is highly transmissible, it also appears to cause less severe symptoms, particularly for those individuals who are vaccinated,” said Health Commissioner Mark Levine, M.D. “Parents and caregivers recognize the stakes. As of now, 58 percent of school age Vermonters have received their initial vaccine doses, and we will continue working to get vaccination percentages up.”
Under the new procedures, when an individual tests positive at a school, or a school is informed that a student or staff member is positive, the following steps should be taken:
The school will inform families of children in class with someone who tests positive for COVID-19.
If a student in that classroom is vaccinated (both Pfizer doses, whether or not they’ve received a booster), or if a staff member is vaccinated and has received their booster dose:
They may remain in the classroom and do not need to quarantine.
They will be given two rapid antigen tests to take home for use on the fourth and fifth days after learning of their possible exposure.
If a student is unvaccinated:
They or their parents can pick up rapid test kits from the school and test the student at home each morning for five days.
During that five-day period, the student can continue to attend school, if they test negative each day. They do not need to bring proof of the negative test to school.
If they choose not to test, they must stay at home for five days and can return to school after five days if they have no symptoms. Taking a PCR or LAMP test is recommended on or after day five.
Students who are identified as close contacts outside of school, as well as school staff who are not fully vaccinated (primary vaccine and booster shot) and have a possible exposure can also pick up rapid tests from their schools and follow the same five-day protocol.
Additionally, in the coming weeks, school nurses will be provided with rapid PCR-like tests so that they can quickly test any symptomatic students or staff on-site.
“As Governor Scott said in his State of the State address last week, it is much better for students to be back in school,” said Secretary of Education Dan French. “The teachers, nurses and administrators of schools across the state have navigated complex, and by necessity, fast-changing procedures as the pandemic response has evolved, and they deserve our thanks,” Secretary French said. “This new guidance will help keep our kids safe, healthy, and back in the classroom. But it is also designed to ease the burden on school staff, allowing them to spend more time doing what we all are in this for — giving our children quality education they deserve.”
The Agency of Education will be providing more detailed guidance to supervisory unions in the coming days.
School testing guidance and information can be found on the Agency of Education website at education.vermont.gov/covid19/testing.