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DOH Announces Strategies to Safely Reopen Schools this Fall

New testing, vaccination campaigns launched for school communities

August 16, 2021

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) announced two strategies to safely reopen schools this fall, including vaccination clinics for school communities and a grant-funded testing program for districts across the commonwealth.

During a press briefing today, Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam and other state officials announced the initiatives to help prevent the spread of the virus. The new programs come as children return to school and the spread of the hyper-transmissible Delta variant continues in the state and across the nation.

“The key is to get as many Pennsylvanians vaccinated, so that we can stop the spread of COVID-19 and the Delta variant,” Acting Secretary Beam said during the event.

The two initiatives are:

  • Vaccine order:  A new order issued today requests vaccine providers to make every effort to work directly with schools and universities to hold clinics for staff, eligible students, and their families. Providers will be responsible to direct schools to DOH if they are unable to hold vaccine clinics, and DOH will coordinate with another provider
  • Testing program:  DOH is launching a testing program with Ginkgo Bioworks to provide free COVID-19 testing in K-12 schools across the commonwealth

The federally funded testing program involves pooled in-classroom or group testing. The process involves taking a collection of nasal swabs from a group of people and running a single test to determine the presence of the virus. The program is optional, and parents must opt-in, officials said. The pooled-testing involves between five and 25 people per sample.

The state is using $87 million in federal stimulus funding to set up the testing program, Acting Secretary Beam said.

“Early detection like this is exactly what we need to keep students in classrooms and COVID out,” Acting Secretary Beam said.

Both vaccination and testing initiatives exclude Philadelphia County, which has its own federal funding designated for these initiatives.  

In Pennsylvania, there were 5,951 additional positive cases of COVID-19 between Saturday and Monday, state officials said. There also were 1,115 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, including 301 patients in the intensive care unit. About 80 percent of Pennsylvania adults have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 64.3 percent are fully vaccinated, state officials said.

Only six of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties have community transmission levels at low or moderate levels, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For more information, contact Robert Shipp III, PhD, BSN, RN, NEA-BC, HAP’s vice president, population health and clinical affairs.