Maryland officials have developed a COVID-19 testing program for schools that have reopened or will be reopening for in-person instruction this year.
The voluntary program, which was announced by Gov. Larry Hogan at a press conference on Thursday afternoon, will provide free rapid and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing to all public and private schools.
The testing supplies will be provided to schools based on the proportion of the number of students and staff members that might need testing, using guidance from the Maryland Department of Health.
The supplies will help to test symptomatic students and staff members at a minimum, as well as asymptomatic people with a confirmed COVID-19 exposure.
About 1 million rapid and PCR tests will be distributed to nearly 3,000 schools across the state with roughly 1.1 million students and employees. Training for how to administer the tests will be provided by the state chools that opt-in for the program.
Hogan said 22 county school systems have begun in-person instruction or have agreed to do so by March 1.
Montgomery County Public Schools will reopen for about 730 students — less than .5% of the overall student population — on March 1. The students are in special education and career and technical education programs.
MCPS will begin its full four-phase reopening plan for the rest of the system’s 161,000 students beginning March 15.
MCPS spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala said Hogan’s announcement is “welcome and great news for our efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our school buildings.”
At a school board meeting on Tuesday, during which the board voted unanimously to begin reopening buildings on March 1, MCPS Chief of Engagement, Innovation and Operations Derek Turner said the district has partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to develop a “surveillance testing protocol” when buildings reopen.
The New York City-based foundation has recently focused on helping districts reopen.
Turner did not elaborate on the partnership, aside from saying it will help the district “ensure we have an understanding of the safety of our schools.”
Onijala on Thursday said the foundation was helping MCPS determine “best practices” for testing for staff members and students, and working to identify possible providers in the region.
Additional information was not available Thursday.
Along with testing for schools, Hogan also announced that limited visitation will resume for nursing homes and hospitals, starting as early as March 1.
Hospitals will be able to set their own visitation policies, which will have to comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
The state health department will issue orders to allow the limited visitations at nursing homes, with the stipulation there are no active cases in the facilities and that certain testing protocols are in place.
Staff reporter Caitlynn Peetz contributed to this story.
Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.