MADISON, Wis. - Schools in Wisconsin can now breathe a sigh of relief. On Tuesday, June 22, Gov. Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) announced COVID-19 testing support for Wisconsin schools in the 2021-2022 school year, free of charge.
The program connects schools – public, private, charter and K-12 – with third-party testing partners to handle school's on-site testing for teachers, staff, students and families of students.
Through the program, participating schools and school districts choose the type of COVID-19 testing that works best for their situation:
- Testing for individuals with symptoms or those who have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19
- Testing for people who attend or participate in school-based events or activities
- Testing on a routine basis for unvaccinated asymptomatic individuals
- Testing of large groups in the school when there has been a COVID-19 outbreak
According to a news release, the new federally funded program is not mandatory for schools, and the testing services are free of charge. However, schools and school districts that do choose to participate are encouraged to follow the CDC’s Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Prevention and have access to both rapid, point of care tests and highly accurate laboratory-based tests.
The DHS said the testing will also help differentiate who has COVID-19, and who has a different respiratory virus like the common cold.
"Most if not all respiratory viruses follow a seasonal variation, a seasonal pattern. So right when kids get back to school, when the weather starts to get cold, all respiratory viruses tend to surge," said Dr. Ryan Westergaard with the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases.
As vaccine efforts among teens are slow, a safe return to the classroom remains a priority for state health officials.
"Our vaccine rates for children 12-17 are still only around 25-30% and much lower in some parts of the state," said Julie Willems Van Dijk, DHS deputy secretary.
"By the time school goes around, we’re not likely to have the majority of K-12 students vaccinated, probably the majority will be unvaccinated," said Westergaard.
The DHS also encourages all eligible people – whether they be students, teachers, staff, their families, or members of the community – to get vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and one of the best tools to stop the spread of COVID-19. Everyone ages 12 and up is currently eligible to receive one in Wisconsin. To find a vaccine provider near you, go to vaccines.gov or call 211 (or 877-947-2211).
Schools can find more information about the new K-12 COVID-19 testing program for the 2021-2022 school year at dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/testing-schools.htm.