A $147 million program to test kindergarten through 12-grade students for COVID in Alabama’s public and private schools is to begin within a few weeks, UAB, education and health officials said Monday.
Schools will test asymptomatic teachers, staff and students over age 12, with parental permission. Officials will use rapid antigen testing for quick results.
“It is voluntary, safe and free,” said Martha Wingate, chair of the Department of Health Care Organization and Policy in UAB’s School of Public Health.
Schools are responsible for reporting test results to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
“It is another tool to stem the flow of COVID,” Wingate said.
One school in the state, which Wingate did not identify, will launch the pilot program over the next few weeks.
Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health said the Delta variant of COVID is transmitted somewhat differently, and asymptomatic adults and children can spread the virus more easily.
“We understand that the Delta variant represents 90% of what we are seeing in Alabama, if not more. We need asymptomatic data as it is a way to reduce the risk in the school system,” Landers said. “And we need to get away from the understanding that children do not get sick and transmit COVID.”
If a student tests positive for COVID, he or she will be quarantined for 10 days, according to ADPH guidelines.
“It’s a further way to protect our children,“ Landers said. “That is why testing is such as great tool, and it augments keeping our kids safe.”
Wingate said the state Department of Education received positive responses when it polled school districts last spring to see if there was interest in in-school testing.
The $147 million that Alabama will get to test the state’s 800,000 K-12 students comes from President Biden’s $10 billion American Rescue Plan.