Note: Recipient-submitted material; content authored by recipient, not ELC
Information current as of October 6, 2021

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To learn more about Alaska’s school testing plans, visit their websiteexternal icon or contact their school-based screening testing program.

Management structure for school screening

The Division of Public Health (DPH) utilizes Public Health Nurses (PHN) to provide support to school nurses on best practices for mitigation activities. PHNs are located in Public Health Centers around the state and the School Health Services Program housed in the Section of Women’s Children and Family Health Schools. DPH utilizes expertise and staff from different units to provide support on developing, reporting, and ensuring quality of the testing plans implemented in the school districts. A pharmacist from the Office of Substance Misuse and Prevention unit in the Section of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion is the COVID-19 Team Lead for testing. He participates in weekly School Health ECHOs (virtual learning communities for school district Superintendents and staff via Zoom) with other DPH leads and the Department of Education and Early Development. He is also available to answer questions and provide consultation to schools to assist in developing testing plans to meet their specific needs. Toolkits are shared including:

  • Social media content communicating the importance of COVID-19 school testing and can be shared on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
  • Informational flyers to promote and answer questions about COVID-19 school testing programs
  • Posters highlighting the benefits of COVID-19 school testing programs describing in-person learning and activities
  • Customizable letters and FAQs for teachers, parents, and guardians addressing frequently asked questions about school COVID-19 testing programs

A state warehouse has been stocked with supplies to perform rapid antigen, NAAT/PCR and Pooled PCR tests as well as personal protective equipment for schools opting to do onsite testing. Some schools have chosen to contract testing services locally due to a lack of staff to perform tests. The Section of Epidemiology provides technical assistance to schools choosing to perform onsite testing or utilize a contractor to ensure reporting is consistent and timely. School districts lacking the capacity to accept funding are provided access to the same supplies, statewide contracts, and technical assistance and support at no cost to support their testing needs.

Support provided to school districts

We are providing school districts with the CDC COVID-19 School Mitigation Plan and American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines. This plan includes charts to follow when determining when and how often to conduct school testing. We are facilitating weekly school health teaching Zoom meetings. These teaching sessions include school staff, principals, superintendents, school nurses, school counselors, and teachers. We are also holding teaching sessions with individual school district mitigation teams and schoolboards to discuss their individual school district mitigation plans and community transmission levels. We continue to stress the importance of school screening testing to safely return to in-person learning in fall 2021.

We are emphasizing the following key points at weekly school health teaching Zoom meetings:

  • Vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.
  • Due to the circulating and highly contagious Delta variant, CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students (age two and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.
  • CDC recommends schools maintain at least three feet of physical distance between students in addition to indoor masking to reduce transmission risk. When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least three feet, such as when schools cannot fully re-open while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as screening testing.
  • Screening testing, ventilation, handwashing, respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection are also important layers of prevention to keep schools safe.
  • When considering which tests to use for screening testing, schools or their testing partners should choose tests that can be reliably supplied and provide results within 24 hours.

A part time state school nurse consultant is providing technical assistance to schools to get started with testing, including instructions on how to obtain the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) waiver, conduct testing, and answer individual questions. Many of our 54 school districts are screening their athletes and conducting optional testing for staff and students. Most large school districts are screening symptomatic students and staff with rapid molecular testing.

We provide the following screening and testing recommendations to K-12 school districts:

  • Screening students is optional when community transmission is low. Students who are not fully vaccinated should be screened once per week when community transmission is moderate, substantial, or high.
  • Teachers and staff who are not fully vaccinated should be offered screening testing once per week regardless of the level of community transmission.
  • Unvaccinated students participating in high-risk sports and activities should be screened once per week when community transmission is low or moderate. When community transmission is substantial, students participating in high-risk sports or activities who are not fully vaccinated should be screened twice per week.  High risk sports or activities should be cancelled when community transmission is high unless all participants are fully vaccinated.
  • Students participating in low or intermediate risk sports or activities do not need to be screened when community transmission is low.
  • Unvaccinated students participating in low or intermediate risk sports or activities should be screened once per week when community transmission is moderate, substantial, or high.