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Pennsylvania Health Dept. announces free COVID-19 testing in schools to help keep kids in classrooms

HARRISBURG — Shortly before the start of the new school year, the state announced two new initiatives focusing on vaccination clinics at higher education institutions and free COVID-19 testing in K-12 schools, to help keep kids in classrooms for the 2021-2022 school year.

The state Department of Health is partnering with Concentric by Ginkgo Bioworks to provide free COVID-19 testing in K-12 schools across the commonwealth to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and outbreaks in schools.

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 a news release. For schools that participate, pooled testing will be performed weekly to identify and prevent the spread of COVID-19 throughout the schools.

“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.”

President of the Pittsburgh Teacher’s Union Nina Esposito-Visgitis says anything to make testing and vaccinations easier are welcome.

“We have to get this under control. This is a new scary virus and variant is very concerning. We have to get it under control we we can get our kids to school 5 days a week,” Esposito-Visgitis said.

Beam also signed an order directing vaccine providers to coordinate vaccine clinics with school entities and institutions of high education.

“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.”

Pittsburgh is already ahead of the curve, with dozens of clinics at local universities and in our school districts throughout the summer.

Funding for these initiatives comes from nearly $338 million in federal U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funds allocated to Pennsylvania to detect, diagnose, trace and monitor COVID-19 and prevent its spread in schools. Both vaccination and testing initiatives exclude Philadelphia County, as Philadelphia Department of Public Health has its own federal funding for these initiatives.