Pennsylvania will pay for a testing program at schools throughout the state in order to detect COVID-19 cases as quickly as possible among students, teachers and staff participating in in-person learning during the upcoming school year.
"A priority of the Wolf Administration is to have and maintain in-person instruction, sports programs, and other extra-curricular activities at schools," Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said. "Unfortunately, we continue to see predominately unvaccinated Pennsylvanians infected with multiple variants of COVID-19, including the highly contagious Delta variant. This reinforces the need for accessible COVID-19 vaccinations for eligible individuals in K-12 schools so that our students, teachers and staff can stay safe."
Only 64% of Pennsylvanians are fully vaccinated, as of Monday, according to state data.
The COVID-19 testing will be done at K-12 schools through a partnership between the state Departments of Health and Education, and Concentric by Ginkgo Bioworks. The initiative will cost at least $87 million and be paid with federal pandemic relief funds given to Pennsylvania.
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Counties will oversee the program on the local level. Participation is not mandatory.
“Pennsylvania’s intermediate units are honored to partner with the Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Education to assist schools with implementing multiple mitigation strategies in order to maximize in-person learning opportunities,” said Dr. John George, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units, which are education departments at the county level.
Wolf has yet to declare mask-wearing mandatory for schools statewide when students, teachers and staff start returning to in-person learning over the next few weeks.
His counterparts in New Jersey and Delaware, Governors Phil Murphy and John Carney, each instituted a mask mandate for schools in their respective states.