By Bo Tefu, California Black Media
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond expanded an existing pilot testing program, adding 3 million free COVID-19 rapid antigen tests, as part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to accelerate the safe reopening of schools across California.
“Being able to quickly identify who is positive, and who is not, will be critically important for day-to-day operations on a school campus, and will help protect not only students but teachers and support staff,” said Thurmond.
State administrators partnered with the California COVID-19 Testing Task Force and the California Department of Education to safeguard the reopening of K-12 schools in underprivileged communities across the state. High-needs schools will have access to antibody tests at no cost so that students can return for in-person instruction. The pilot program delivered rapid antigen tests to 11 school districts located in areas that were the most impacted by the pandemic. The participating schools produced fruitful results that identified individuals who were asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. The pilot program prioritizes rural regions, low-income neighborhoods, as well as Black and Brown communities that were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 due to limited access to adequate health care.
Thurmond said that it is important to get the rapid antibody tests, “into the hands of those who may lack the access to testing or medical care.”
The antibody tests are crucial for the safe reopening of schools seeing that individuals can get results in at least 15 minutes, state officials said. Members of the COVID-19 taskforce train and oversee the testing process at participating schools in efforts to expand the pilot program.
State administrators also implemented the Healthy Places Index, a census data-tracking tool that identifies underserved populations inconvenienced by the pandemic. The metric tool was created by the Public Health Alliance of Southern California to boost state outreach in low-income Black and Brown communities.
Gov. Newsom said the pilot program is preparing more schools to welcome students for in-person learning before the end of the year.
“By deploying these rapid tests, California is adding another tool in the toolbox to support schools as they continue on the path to reopen as safely and quickly as possible,” said Newsom.
The rapid antibody testing pilot program was launched in January 2021 by the California COVID-19 Testing Task Force along with the California Endowment and the Public Health Institute. The research institutions, part of Gov. Newsom’s Together Toward Health initiative, are expected to publish the pilot program’s data revealing the test results of more than 40,000 students from 80 elementary schools in 11 school districts across the state.
According to the Public Health Institute and the Ballmer Group positive cases of COVID-19 can be contained to prevent the fast spread of the virus if detected early.
Gov. Newsom recently signed a bill that gives workers who were exposed to or test positive or for COVID-19 access to paid sick leave. The new legislation was enacted to protect essential workers, including educators and school staff, who at high risk of contracting the virus.
The bill aims to fill the gaps in policies related to state and federal paid sick leave, according to state lawmakers. Gov. Newsom said the new law also gives employees who tested positive or were exposed to the virus, “a little more peace of mind as they take time to care for themselves and protect those around them from COVID-19.”
“Helping employees stay home when they are sick is foundational in our response to COVID-19,” said Newsom.
California’s is still on its path to overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the state has vaccinated more than 200,000 education staff and childcare workers since the beginning of March 2021.
The state exceeded its initial goal to conduct 75,000 weekly vaccinations, as part of the governor’s plan to allocate at least 10 % of the state’s vaccinations to education and childcare workers statewide. California has vaccinated teachers and school staff in 58 counties, according to state officials.
“We will continue working with our local partners to accelerate this effort in communities across the state so that all school staff have access to a vaccine,” which is a major step toward the safe reopening of schools in California, said Newsom.
California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.