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PA Offers New Testing Programs, More Vaccine Clinics to Keep Schools Open

by Emily Scott, Keystone State News Connection

PA Offers New Testing Programs, More Vaccine Clinics to Keep Schools Open

With a few weeks until school starts, the state Departments of Health and Education have announced new initiatives to keep K-12 schools and universities open amid the COVID-19 Delta variant.

Alison Beam, acting Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, signed an executive order Monday directing vaccine providers in the state to coordinate vaccination clinics at schools and universities when requested by administrators.

The state has also introduced a free, voluntary COVID-19 testing program available to K-12 schools weekly. Beam said public health investments will help keep COVID out of classrooms.

“It’s clear that everyone wants to keep kids in the classroom and keep extracurricular activities going,” Beam observed. “That’s why we are encouraging all K-12 schools to take advantage of this unique opportunity to bring COVID-19 testing into schools at no expense to the school.”

Biotechnology company Ginkgo will operate the pooled testing program, which will combine nasal swab samples from a classroom and run them as a single test to quickly determine any COVID-19 cases.

Providers will be expected to coordinate vaccination clinics for the employees, volunteers, students and student families that are part of the school community.

Noe Ortega, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, said the new programs will be key to making sure in-person learning can continue.

“Initiatives such as the ones we are here to announce today are vital to our success,” Ortega stated. “I encourage all our schools to coordinate COVID-19 vaccination clinics for their communities as soon as possible. And I encourage all K-12 schools to participate in testing programs as well.”

A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation said parents were twice as likely to get their kids vaccinated if schools provided them with information and research that helped them decide.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona also joined the announcement virtually, and said Pennsylvania is leading by example for other states to ensure a safe and healthy school year.