Although they are still developing an application process, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare officials will use $30 million to make sure Idaho school districts that want to test for COVID-19 have the option.
“All Idaho public and private K-12 schools and school districts will have access to funding for COVID-19 testing,” according to health and welfare Director of Communications Kelly Petroff. “They can design and implement the screening program that works best for them.”
The testing program was announced earlier this month and Petroff said state workers are still in the planning phase.
District personnel can do targeted screening, Petroff said, where they only test teachers, staff, student athletes or other specific groups. Or they can screen everyone based on levels of COVID-19 transmission in their communities. The goal is to be flexible and make testing for COVID-19 in schools as accessible as possible, Petroff said.
Mackay schools Superintendent Susan Buescher said COVID-19 isn’t as big of a concern this fall as it was a year ago. During the first week of school the superintendent said active cases for the virus were at zero in Custer County. As of Friday, Aug. 20, that number had increased to one active case.
In contrast, several positive cases of the virus were confirmed in Mackay students and employees last fall, which forced the district into online learning for the first few weeks of school.
“Things seem pretty quiet,” this time around, Buescher said, but she still keeps an eye on East Idaho Public Health’s COVID-19 case count. Mackay Principal Stephanie Green said district personnel don’t want any interruptions to in-person learning this year. Because they are better equipped to fight the virus through vaccinations and other medical knowledge they didn’t have before, Green and Buescher said Mackay teachers are better prepared to teach in person now than they were in 2020.
According to Petroff, ensuring uninterrupted, in-person learning is the reason Gov. Brad Little directed the $30 million toward testing in the first place.
Challis Superintendent Lani Rembelski shared her Mackay counterparts’ optimistic outlook. Rembelski said recent coronavirus data from public health officials show schools in Custer County can operate in person, with masks and social distancing recommended. Like teachers and staff in Mackay, Rembelski said Challis educators are more knowledgeable about keeping the virus out of schools. With Challis students returning to classrooms Monday, Aug. 30, Rembelski said there are measures in place to keep them safe and healthy.
Petroff described the testing program as one more measure that can used to keep Idaho children safe as they return to school. Screening students, teachers and staff won’t be mandatory, she said, but it will be an effective tool for keeping schools open.