REMOTE LEARNING

State temporarily suspends test-to-stay programs 

Jan 13, 2022, 4:27 PM | Updated: 6:44 pm
FILE PHOTO: Viewmont High School student Becca Marsden is tested for COVID-19 by Davis School Distr...
FILE PHOTO: Viewmont High School student Becca Marsden is tested for COVID-19 by Davis School District nurse Peggy Petersen at the school in Bountiful on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. The school conducted testing on Wednesday after recent COVID-19 cases among students pushed it past the "test to stay" threshold, where they are required to test students. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)
(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – The current record-setting spread of COVID-19 the omicron variant has caused attendance at schools around Utah to nosedive and put a strain on state testing resources. That led Utah Gov. Cox and other state leaders to send a letter to schools that temporarily suspended test-to-stay requirements for schools.  

The Governor, Senate President Stuart Adams, House Speaker Brad Wilson, and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson all signed the letter.  

House Speaker Brad Wilson is among the state leaders who believe current test-to-stay guidelines, are not doing as they were intended, and are depleting testing supplies. 

The letter said, “The surge has challenged students’ learning and stretched educators thin. At the same time, we have reached testing resource capacity, and statutorily required test-to-stay programs in schools are overextending those resources.”  

Wilson explained, “It’s not working with omicron. It’s not the greatest and highest best use of our resources. It’s disrupting our schools, and it’s not effective for the current variant of COVID.” 

Several schools recently notified parents that they crossed the state’s threshold of 2% or more of the school population testing positive for COVID-19. Crossing the threshold automatically made the schools switch to test-to-stay as mandated by the state.  

Students could still attend if they tested negative. 

The letter explained, “Utah Code requires schools to offer in-person instruction at least four days per week. In effect, this means that if a school has provided in-person instruction Monday through this week, the school has met the statuary requirement and is free to offer remote learning on Friday.”  

The code also allows for a temporary exception to the four-day in-person requirement. That request must be approved by the same people who signed Thursday’s letter if they all agree that “the risks to in-person instruction temporarily outweigh the value of in-person instruction.” 

The letter said the legislature will work immediately during the next session which begins next week to “formalize a process for LEA’s to request applications of the exception to the in-person learning requirement.” 

The letter went on to say, “The unique characteristics of the omicron variant, the availability of vaccinations and developing guidance from health authorities, it is necessary to step back from test-to-stay programs, allowing the Utah Department of Health to devote its testing resources to congregate-care facilities, long-term care facilities, and community testing sites.” 

Wilson mirrored that saying we are at a point where COVID-19 tests need to be prioritized for testing centers, and live-in care centers. 

“I know we have a lot of tests that have been on order for a long time,” said Wilson. “We’ve expected them to come, they haven’t yet. The state health department I think has done a great job of trying to keep those orders in, but the tests just aren’t coming.” 

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How do I prevent it?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

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State temporarily suspends test-to-stay programs