After weeks of delay, Montrose County School District is gearing up to implement a state-funded testing program for rapid COVID tests in all schools.
Parental consent will be required for a student to be enrolled in the regular testing program. MCSD spokesperson Matt Jenkins said the program should be active by the end of October.
Enrolled students will be exempt from mandatory quarantining as a result of routine classroom exposure. Moreover, if at least 70% of unvaccinated students and staff are participating in the program at a school, the school itself will not be required to quarantine after school-based exposure if not exhibiting symptoms.
“Our whole end goal behind all of this is to not have to quarantine,” Jenkins said. “It will be a joyful day and we will celebrate when the word quarantine is out of our lexicon and we’re doing everything we can to make this happen.”
Jenkins added that MCSD is continuing to take COVID seriously and ensure that fewer students need to stay home from in-person learning.
“COVID spreading among students continues to be a real problem and we’re not going to put our head in the sand,” Jenkins said.
The program, administered by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is funded with $173 million in federal money. Since the start of the school year, the program has been mired with delays.
The Colorado Sun reported that the state is citing lack of demand from parents and school districts as the two biggest impediments to the rollout of the program.
But Jenkins said that there is plenty of demand for the program here in Montrose.
As of last week, at least 657 schools had expressed interest and 473 were enrolled in the program. But less than half of the enrolled schools have actually started testing.
The school district will soon be partnered with one of two vendors the state has contracted with to administer the program.
Since the start of the school year, the district has been administering molecular PCR tests to students, parents and teachers who have been quarantined or would like to be tested. The current testing program is administered in partnership with Montrose County Public Health and funded through federal monies that have trickled down through the state.
At least 400 tests have been administered since the start of the school year.
Quarantined students can return to in-person learning before the 10-day quarantine period is over if a PCR test administered on the fifth day of quarantine comes back negative.
Jenkins said that the district will likely continue to administer the PCR testing program, but speculated that the demand for this program will decline when the antigen testing program starts. However, a PCR, not rapid, test is required to return to school early from a mandated 10-day quarantine.
Fully vaccinated staff and students over the age of 12 are already exempt from regular quarantines following exposure. Jenkins has previously told the Daily Press that some unvaccinated students have taken the initiative to get vaccinated after a mandatory quarantine.
The Food and Drug Administration is currently reviewing data and is expected to approve vaccines for students between the ages of five and 11 for emergency use authorization sometime soon.
The current program is mostly administered by district staff and nurses. Michelle Pottorff, the district’s director of human resources, said that staff have incorporated administering the COVID testing into their regular schedules.
“Does it take away from other responsibilities? Absolutely, COVID has done that across the board,” Pottorff said. “Is it a burden? No, I think it’s just part of our daily routine now.”
Anna Lynn Winfrey is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.