Educators, parents react to state's plan for $173M COVID-19 testing program next fall

Posted at 7:03 PM, Jul 07, 2021

COLORADO SPRINGS — To ensure in-person learning with minimal disruptions, the state plans to launch a new coronavirus testing program at school districts statewide.

The Colorado Department of Health and Human Services says the program will be geared toward K-12 educators and students, and utilize $173 million in federal funds. The goal of the program is to provide access to frequent testing opportunities to help slow disease transmission, particularly among students too young to be vaccinated.

"I could see it working, but then I could see it not working," said Katelyn Wood, Widefield School District 3 parent.

She isn't opposed to the testing program but believes it may be difficult to implement.

"You're going to have some of those parents who won't go through with it but you're going to have parents go through with it to protect themselves, children, and families. Which me being a single mom and in healthcare, I test every day. Doesn't matter if I'm working or not, I have to take time to go test. Being a single parent that could be kinda hard, and it's something we'd have to adjust our schedule for," said Wood.

The program will require school districts to sign up for the testing which will be voluntary for educators and students.

"We can't restrain or force our children to have this done. What techniques or ways is the state of Colorado going to do this. I think it's going to fall back on our nurses, and with me being in the healthcare field, it is so short," said Wood. "I can see it working and then I can see it not working."

"While a school testing program will be most effective when a large percentage of students participate, all testing is beneficial to slow transmission of COVID. Those who test positive can then isolate and minimize disease transmission," the state said.

Educators with the Colorado Education Association support the testing program.

"This is our hope that people will engage in the program because it will allow us to do more of that in-person learning, it'll allow us to do more of those things that we long to do. We are hopeful and thankful when we have access to strategies like testing to slow the spread and keep students and educators in school," said Amie Baca-Oehlert, President of the Colorado Education Association.

"We believe that the ability to have access to testing is a key component to maintaining and maximizing that in-person learning. We learned very well from last school year that if families have access to testing that can slow the spread and allows us to understand who's been in contact with someone positive. So we see it as a good component to starting off the school year in a good way,"

"The more people that are tested in a school environment, the more likely that we are able to identify spread earlier on or being able to eliminate it. If we have a high number of individuals getting tested on a routine basis, there's a question if we can limit the number of quarantines because are getting routine answers on whether or not a person is infected," said Haley Zachary, Communicable Disease Program Manager, El Paso County Health Department.

By having more testing, she says it could lead to fewer infections and restrictions.

"The sooner that we are able to identify those people that are ill, we can isolate them so they don't go to grandma and grandpa's house. They may not visit friends in the hospital r can't get the vaccine fr numerous reasons," said Zachary.

Wood says she would opt her children into the program as long as she can be involved in the process.

"I want to be right there and I want all my questions answered. As far as implementation, I don't want it to stress my children out. If I decide to opt my kids into it, I want my kids to be comfortable and I want them to understand that this is not only for you, this is for everyone around you," said Wood.

The state hasn't selected vendors for the program just yet, but believe multiple may be needed to cover the entire state. They plan to provide the initial testing supplies and contract staff who can help administer the testing program and report the results.