Through the Kansas K-12 Stay Positive Test Negative Initiative, schools across the state have three flexible testing strategies ready for implementation. CDC grants will provide funding to bolster these testing strategies. (Getty Images)
TOPEKA — Onsite COVID-19 testing is underway at 75 schools across Kansas, and state health officials say more will join them soon.
As children resume in-person learning across the state, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is working to ensure school districts have a testing plan to keep schools open and minimize absenteeism. Kansas deputy state health officer Joan Duwve said the Kansas K-12 Stay Positive Test Negative Initiative is providing a flexible framework to all school districts.
Under the initiative, Duwve said, there are three testing strategies — Test to Know (diagnostic testing), Test to Stay and Learn (daily testing of susceptible close contacts) and Test to Stay, Play and Participate (weekly screening for people in extracurricular activities). There is also one vaccine plan, she said.
“This is not a one-size-fits-all strategy but flexible testing strategies that were specifically designed so that schools could adopt any or all of the plans and can be responsive to the local needs,” Duwve said.
The KDHE initiative also seeks to provide funding or additional resources to assist with the vaccine strategy or any of the three testing strategies. Duwve presented the update Wednesday to the COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Task Force, which is working to bring up vaccination rates among communities lagging behind state averages.
So far, 20% of Kansas school districts have approved initiative budgets, 26% have submitted budgets and are awaiting approval, and 21% are interested but have not submitted a budget yet. Another 13% declined to participate, and 20% have not responded to initial contact from the testing team.
Duwve said $87 million in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grants for reopening schools will bolster these testing strategies. About $74 million will go directly to school districts, with the remaining $13 million open to all public and private schools in the state.
“Schools should be the first to reopen and the last to close,” she said. “So this funding will go to activities to include detection and prevention of COVID focused on screening and testing as mitigation strategies that offer support for diagnostic testing.”
Promotion of the vaccine could also be a mitigation activity, Duwve said.
So far, 56.6% of Kansans and nearly 70% of the adult population have taken at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Although the gap has decreased, vaccination rates among Black, American Indian, and Hispanic Kansans still lag behind their white and non-Hispanic counterparts.
The vaccine equity panel has identified several lessons and recommendations to take with them to their communities to further reduce this disparity. A primary takeaway is a need to disseminate credible information that does not breed mistrust.
“It’s important to use reliable information but also to make sure that we get that out through the many different channels and news that are critical to different communities,” said Vickie Collie-Akers, an associate professor of public health at the University of Kansas School of Medicine
The panel also looked forward to work beyond the pandemic, possibly supporting the efforts of the Immunize Kansas Coalition in promoting more than just the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Getting relevant trustworthy information out around vaccinations, all kinds of vaccinations, and doing it with people that are trusted is important because emotions, not facts, can be No. 1 in the populations that aren’t ready for the vaccine,” said Elaine Johannes, a professor of community health at Kansas State University.
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