SALT LAKE CITY – The state has suspended “test-to-stay” in Utah schools as health officials struggle with testing capacity and cases have occurred in schools statewide.
In a joint letter to school districts, charter schools and lawmakers, Governor Spencer Cox, public school superintendent Dr. Sydnee Dickson, Speaker of the House Brad Wilson and Senate Speaker J. Stuart Adams recommended that they discontinue the requirement so that schools can easily move to remote learning.
“Given the unique characteristics of the Omicron variant, the availability of vaccinations and the development of guidelines from health authorities, it is imperative to step back from test-to-stay programs so that the Utah Department of Health can testing resources at community health facilities, long-term care facilities and community testing sites,” the letter, shared with FOX 13, reads.
Speaker Wilson told reporters at a news conference that the move was intended to give schools “the freedom to learn remotely over the next two weeks.”
“If they pass the test-to-stay threshold and their school board says that’s okay for that school,” he added.
The speaker acknowledged that “test-to-stay”, designed to keep children in the classroom while avoiding COVID-19, is ineffective with the rapidly spreading omicron variant.
“Test-to-stay was really meant to be an early intervention to help reduce the spread of COVID and it worked really well for COVID 1 and 2, if you want to call it that,” he said. “But it doesn’t work with ommicron.”
Utah’s current ommicron peak has ensured that the number of schools in the protocol has increased enormously, with the number of positive tests among students reaching hundreds at some schools.
Under state law, test-to-stay protocols can be used when a school meets the following criteria:
- Schools with 1,500 or more students have 2% of their students test positive for COVID-19
- Schools with fewer than 1,500 students have 30 students who test positive for COVID-19
By law, a student who tests negative for COVID-19 and has no symptoms may continue with personal learning. While students who test positive for the virus should stay at home and isolate themselves.
Due to the large number of schools expected to be covered by the protocols, officials are concerned about the number of tests available. A spokesperson for the Granite School District said they barely stumbled when it came to testing opportunities for COVID-19.
The Utah Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, praised the move. Iafter a lengthy statement, the union said it supported mask mandates and school closures to try and get a handle on matters.
“We appreciate that Governor Cox, Legislative Leadership and Chief Inspector Dickson approve a temporary distance learning waiver to enable this option for school districts. However, the close-to-stay-open strategy will only work if the entire community is committed. commitment to reducing the number of COVID cases by following the recommendations of our health experts,” the UEA said.
“The workload and responsibilities currently placed on educators is enormous. These dedicated individuals struggle to meet students’ learning needs and take care of personal and family health situations. In addition to following health guidelines, we must support our educators through appropriate sick leave policies and paid leave. We also need to give them the peace of mind knowing that their students will be well looked after by qualified substitute staff during their absence.”
When the Utah state legislature meets for its 45-day session next week, Speaker Wilson said he expects a pause or sunset from legislation requiring “test-to-stay.” He also said the state will unveil new health guidelines for living with ommicron.
“The crux is that if you have symptoms, you should stay at home for at least five days. Not enough tests are coming out of Washington to test everyone who needs it now,” said Speaker Wilson. “We just want everyone to be very pragmatic about what the right steps are to manage ommicron.”