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Colorado to offer COVID-19 testing for every student in state

Program helps isolate positive cases before outbreaks
Julie Cifuni, school nurse at Mountain Middle School, swabs Roman Barela, 12, a sixth grader, with a COVID-19 rapid test on April 20 at the school. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Colorado will offer a school-based COVID-19 testing program and provide masks to K-12 schools and school districts that want them, Gov. Jared Polis said during a Thursday news conference.

Colorado is recommending masks in schools, and will continue a mask delivery program across the state. Since the program’s launch this year, Colorado has delivered 8 million masks to 412 schools across Colorado.

“In addition to the regular testing for schools, our guidance as you know, which is the CDC guidance, is universal mask-wearing,” Polis said.

Polis continues to urge Coloradans to get vaccinated and remain cautious against COVID-19.

“I strongly encourage you to have your child vaccinated,” Polis said, addressing parents of children ages 12 to 17. “That’s the most effective protection by far, by far.”

Polis spoke about the layered protections school districts, in conjunction with county health departments, have implemented, such as COVID-19 testing, symptom screening, ventilation upgrades, mask wearing and social distancing.

“We want to make sure schools are one of the safest environments for students,” Polis said.

In July, based on updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Colorado updated its guidance for schools. One of the recommendations is regular testing, given the higher percentage of asymptomatic cases for younger people, Polis said.

“One of the reasons this virus spreads so efficiently and effectively is that some people who have it simply don’t know they have it, and unwittingly spread it,” he said.

Polis announced that Colorado will provide free, voluntary rapid testing for schools on a regular basis. Colorado’s school-based testing program, which provides school districts with surveillance testing for every student in Colorado, will start in early September, but districts that want to begin testing earlier will be accommodated.

The program, paid for with federal money, allows students who are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to be tested, with the goal of isolating positive cases before outbreaks.

“Every school child in Colorado can have the same level of protection as a Denver Bronco,” Polis said when announcing the testing program. Program details are provided on the state’s COVID-19 website.

“This program is completely optional, of course, for districts, schools and parents, and nobody has to be tested, but the safety of our children is an easy choice to make,” Polis said.

The state is exploring a way to offer financial incentives to students and their families to participate in the testing program.

“We hope it’s somewhere in the $5 to $25 range,” Polis said. “(It’s) just an acknowledgment of the fact that, yes, it does take a little time and maybe means your kid has to get to school 20 minutes early.”

Polis suggested Colorado would consider requiring masks, or other safety precautions for schools, if because of rising infections schools are unable to provide continuous in-person learning.

Polis encouraged all Coloradans to get tested if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, even if they think the sickness is because of poor air quality because of wildfires.

“We at the state are providing science-based guidance, vaccine clinics, testing, free medical-grade masks and testing options, and we look forward to working with county health departments and schools to implement those across the state,” Polis said.

“It is our top priority to keep in-person education and for kids to be safe,” he said.

COVID-19 cases are rising in Colorado, but hospitals are not at risk of reaching capacity, Polis said.

“We are not currently in jeopardy of overwhelming our hospital capacity,” he said during the news conference. “Everybody who experiences any illness in Colorado will get the very best care that we can provide through our hospitals.

“We will not overwhelm our hospitals. We will take the steps necessary to avoid doing that,” Polis said.

To read more stories from Colorado Newsline, visit www.coloradonewsline.com.