HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – During a period when only some Alabama schools are requiring masks and children under twelve still can’t get vaccinated, the state is launching an effort to better monitor COVID-19 in K-12 institutions.
The Alabama Department of Public Health and UAB’s public health department have partnered and plan to offer voluntary COVID-19 testing for teachers and staff in schools.
“This is one of the most important mitigation standards that we could implement in schools to be able to keep our kids safe, to keep our faculty and staff safe, and to keep everybody in the classroom,” said Dr. Karen Landers with ADPH. “We know that this virus presents a significant threat to that with the level of transmission that we have in the pediatric age groups.”
However, the program funded by a CDC grant is intended for asymptomatic individuals in schools, and they must provide consent to be a part of the testing.
“A routine surveillance program that can be implemented in a targeted population in a school system to help us continue to monitor what the transmission is there,” said Landers. “What the overall incidence of COVID is there and that will help guide further measures.”
Schools can opt-in to the program through either ADPH or UAB, and Dr. Landers said they should because COVID-19 numbers among kids ages 5 to 17 have grown since school started.
“We’ve had 40, 45, 48 kids hospitalized in the state of Alabama over the last week. We’ve had as many as nine children, possibly more on respiratory support on ventilators,” she said. “I mean really just a couple of weeks ago, children in the five to 17 age group accounted for 9.7 percent of our total cases now we’re up to 10.2 percent. People might say well that’s only a half a percent, that’s a half a percent at a time that we have a highly transmissible variant.”
Landers said the program will be provided free of charge to students and staff at schools that choose to opt-in. At this point, it’s unclear just how many schools have put their name on the list.