Testing programs ramp up as students return to schools


Contact: Frank Ameduri, 360-522-3750                                           

OLYMPIA – Soon schools across Washington will be teeming with students for the first time in more than a year. Supporting the effort to get students back into schools, and formulating plans to help keep our schools open, has been a priority for the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) for months.

This year, back-to-school occurs in the midst of a COVID-19 surge in all regions of the state. So, the strategy for a healthy return includes layered protections: encouraging vaccines for all eligible students, requiring staff to be vaccinated, near-universal masking, and regular COVID-19 testing at school.

Testing at schools is a crucial way to track and prevent disease spread, so DOH has partnered with the Health Commons Project to provide districts with end-to-end testing support, including a testing strategist to help develop the best strategy and tools.

Districts can choose from a menu of testing options at school via the Learn to Return (LTR) testing program.  LTR offers testing options that make the most sense for each school, including screening testing that helps identify cases early to prevent potential outbreaks. “School-based COVID testing should help give parents peace of mind,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. “It’s part of a layered approach in our schools that will allow us to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Combining testing with broad vaccination, and then adding the four W’s of washing hands, wearing masks, watching distance, and using WA Notify is the best possible approach as we restart full-time, in-person learning.”

DOH worked primarily with Curative and Everlywell throughout 2020, but has expanded its partnerships to include Abbott, BD, CIC Health and Atlas to provide screening and diagnostic testing options for the coming school year.

The LTR testing program has expanded over the past several months. It now has about 300 Washington state school districts enrolled, including public, private, independent and tribal schools. LTR is voluntary and designed to be tailored to local needs; it also can offer staffing support when needed. Questions about enrollment can be sent to schools@healthcommonsproject.org.