NEK Schools Part Of New COVID Testing Pilot Program

Several Northeast Kingdom schools have been selected for a pilot program Vermont is launching to conduct COVID-19 surveillance testing on students.

Agency of Education Secretary Dan French announced the program during the state’s media briefing Friday morning.

Several districts from across the state have been chosen to provide a geographic diversity in the pilot that could see up to 6,300 tests administered. In the Northeast Kingdom Danville School, Hazen Union High School and Craftsbury Academy will participate in the pilot.

The program is open to youth ages 8 and above. It is voluntary and requires parental consent to participate.

Throughout the school year AOE and the Health Department conducted surveillance testing on school teachers and staff, but that program has now wound down as a significant portion of school staff has been vaccinated and the testing returned no cases for several weeks in a row.

“We are now in the process of launching a pilot surveillance testing program focused on students,” said French. “The idea is to launch a limited pilot program this spring and summer and then expand the program more widely in the fall.

The cost of the program is covered by a federal grant from the CDC.

“The new testing will likely lead to the identification of additional cases, but this is good because it will help us in our efforts to stop the virus from spreading,” said French.

The state intends to continue the testing into the summer and ramp the program up for wider implementation in the fall.

This is unchartered territory in terms of involving students,” said French.

CCSU Superintendent Mark Tucker, who offered Danville School as a participant, said consent forms were being sent home to parents on Friday.

Tucker said he was interested in participating out of curiosity and if the program was going to expand in the fall “I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have some experience with it.”

Tucker is optimistic the program will roll out smoothly as it’s being run by the same testing firm that did the school surveillance testing this fall.

“We thought it might give us a leg up on identifying positive cases quicker (we had a tough March),” wrote Orleans Southwest Superintendent Adam Rosenberg about his interest in being part of the pilot.

Rosenberg said he has some concern about having sufficient personnel to manage the program, in terms of registering students, coordinating testing, processing the test materials, etc., and that is actually one of the goals of AOE - to determine personnel needs in order to administer the program on a wider scale so schools can be better equipped to potentially implement the program in the fall.

Schools in the Northeast Kingdom have had to deal with disruptions to operations due to COVID-19 cases within the school communities all year, including schools this week that shifted to remote despite dropping case numbers across the state.

According to the state’s latest report of COVID cases within schools while contagious there were 15 such cases in the NEK in the last 7 days, including Burke Town School - 1, Lunenburg/Gilman Schools - 1, North Country Union Jr. High School - 1, Orleans Elementary School - 1, St. Johnsbury Academy - 8, and Waterford Elementary School - 1.

Another COVID Death In Orleans County

The Health Department reported that another NEK resident has died as a result of COVID-19. The latest death was in Orleans County, which has now had 11 COVID-related deaths since the pandemic began. Caledonia County has had 6 deaths and Essex County has had 2 deaths.

The NEK also added 50 cases in the last 3 days, which has caused the 7-day average to increase after dropping steadily since April 5. These cases pushed the region past a couple of milestones: Caledonia County has now surpassed 1,000 cases - reaching 1020 after 36 in the last 3 days, and the region is now at 2,505, with 1,205 in Orleans County and 280 in Essex County.

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