The Lead

As school begins, state officials offer optional vaccination, testing initiatives to districts

By: - August 16, 2021 5:53 pm

Department of Health acting Sec. Alison Beam speaks to reporters Mon., Aug. 16, 2021 (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).

Pennsylvania schools will have two new initiatives at their disposal to fight COVID-19 outbreaks and keep in-person instruction in place as the 2021-’22 school year begins for students across the commonwealth.

Speaking to reporters Monday, state officials unveiled a plan for schools to work with vaccine providers to offer on-site vaccination clinics, and a plan for optional classroom testing. The initiatives are the result of partnerships between the Wolf administration, Concentric by Ginkgo Bioworks and vaccine providers statewide.

“A priority of the Wolf administration is to have and maintain in-person instruction, sports programs, and other extracurricular activities at schools,” acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said. “Unfortunately, we continue to see predominately unvaccinated Pennsylvanians infected with multiple variants of COVID-19, including the highly contagious Delta variant. This reinforces the need for accessible COVID-19 vaccinations for eligible individuals in K-12 schools so that our students, teachers and staff can stay safe.” 

The no-cost initiatives will be available to schools statewide, except in Philadelphia, which receives its own allocations from the federal government and has its own health department. 

“This is exactly what we need to keep students in classrooms, and COVID out,” Beam said. The funding for both initiatives comes from the $338 million Pennsylvania received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to “detect, diagnose, trace and monitor COVID-19 and prevent its spread in schools,” according to a statement from the Department of Health.

Department of Education Secretary Noe Ortega said Monday that face-to-face instruction is dependent on the vaccination and testing initiatives. 

“Students and teachers across Pennsylvania are looking forward to returning to their classrooms for the new school year – let’s do everything we can to make sure they are safe while teaching, learning, and growing together,” Ortega said. 

The pooled classroom testing initiative by Ginkgo will be voluntary, with parents able to opt-in if their school participates in the program. 

On Monday, Pennsylvania recorded 1,115 hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania with 301 of those in intensive care units. As of Sunday, 64.3 percent of Pennsylvanians age 18 and older are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data. 

Beam acknowledged the “significant increase” in the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19, but reiterated that there are no plans to reinstate a statewide masking mandate at this time.

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.