SALT LAKE CITY — COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant are surging among students and employees in Utah schools, prompting some to start Test to Stay guidelines.
By state law, Test to Stay protocols can be used when a school meets the following criteria:
- Schools with 1,500 or more students have 2% of their students test positive for COVID-19
- Schools with fewer than 1,500 students have 30 students test positive for COVID-19
According to the law, when a school achieves these criteria, the local health agency will collaborate with it to provide testing to all children. The UDOH can also assist schools with testing supplies, mobile testing units, and other services. The state's coronavirus website indicates that "school workers are not forced to participate, but can do so if they like."
If students test negative for COVID-19 and have no symptoms, they may continue in-person learning. Students who test positive with the virus, on the other hand, must remain at home and isolate.
Testing in the Granite School District so far has uncovered a major change from when the program was first implemented a year ago. When the program started last year, additional COVID-19 cases were rarely discovered. However, on Tuesday, during testing at Skyline High School, they found 245 cases.
“That’s a lot of positive, asymptomatic cases so it does show the depth and breadth of this surge,” said Ben Horsley with the Granite School District.
If so many schools continue to meet the “Test to Stay” threshold, there’s not only concern over whether or not they will run out of tests, also staffing shortages. Ben Horsley with the Granite School District says right now they’re just barely limping along.
Republican Senator Todd Weiler, who sponsored the bill, says a lot has changed in the year since the bill went into effect, including the option to vaccinate.
“The intent of the bill was to keep schools open, rather than having them shut down and reopen, shut down and reopen, I think the problem with the omicron variant is getting enough tests for the entire student population,” said Sen. Weiler.
Sen. Weiler says there's a better understanding of the damage shutting down schools causes students and he thinks even if school was shut down, kids would still socialize with friends outside of school.
“It appears and I’ve heard experts say that everyone is going to get Omicron and that may be a good thing. Because it may turn this endemic if it isn’t already endemic because the virus appears to be weakening,” said Sen. Weiler.
The following schools have implemented Test-to-Stay procedures as of Wednesday morning, Jan. 12:
- Alpine School District
- American Fork High School
- Lone Peak High School
- Mountain View High School
- Orem High School
- Davis School District:
- Davis High School
- Layton High School
- Viewmont High School
- Granite School District:
- Skyline High School
- Jordan School District:
- Bingham High School
- Copper Hills High School
- Herriman High School
- Mountain Ridge High School
- Riverton High School
- Salt Lake City School District:
- East High School
- Highland High School
- Park City School District
- Ecker Hill Middle School
- Park City High School
- Treasure Mountain Junior High School
The Test to Stay program, according to Dr. Angela Dunn, executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, is certain to fail as more schools hit the barrier. Local health departments will be unable to keep up with the demand for Test to Stay due to personnel shortages and supply concerns, according to Dunn.
Meanwhile, the Canyons School District just announced it's adding more remote-only days, including one next week amid worsening staff shortages and rising COVID-19 cases.