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Utah's innovative COVID school testing program recognized

Posted at 5:20 PM, May 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-25 00:24:20-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The State of Utah is getting national recognition for its innovative COVID-19 high school testing program.

The Center for Disease Control’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report highlighted a study of the program that kept students learning in-person and participating in extra-curricular activities during the pandemic.

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Mountain Ridge High School sophomore Londyn Isbell was getting tested for COVID-19 every other week in Herriman.

“It was the nose swab at the school. We would wait until we would have to get results back before we could practice,” Isbell said.

While she never tested positive, some of her teammates did.

"They said, ‘I feel fine. I didn’t even know we were exposed or anything’,” said Isbell.

The routine COVID-19 tests are required by the state for all high school students participating in extra-curricular activities.

The so-called “Test to Play” strategy allowed 95 percent of extra-curricular competitions to go on as planned, according to the study by the Utah Department of Health and published in the CDC weekly report.

“Utah is really looked at as a leader in this area and we are excited to be highlighted and share that experience,” said COVID-19 State Testing Coordinator Kendra Babitz.

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A similar “Test to Stay” strategy allowed students to learn in-person despite a defined school outbreak.

Thirteen high schools opted to test students regularly as an alternative to transitioning to online learning. It saved students from missing an estimated 110,000 in-person instruction days, according to the report.

“This was very, very helpful in keeping the majority of students in class where you can just pull out the positives,” said Babitz.

Utah’s school-based COVID-19 testing is now being considered nationally as a part of a comprehensive prevention strategy to keep in-person learning and practicing.

Nearly 60,000 Utah students underwent routine testing. The low 3.2 positive test is considered a success, according to Babitz.