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The federally backed program to offer schools COVID-19 screening is being billed as an important resource for schools to safely open to in-person instruction this fall.

However, Missouri's health and elementary and secondary education departments need to redouble their efforts to have the program running by next week when many schools start for the fall.

The Missouri Independent reported it's unclear whether the program will be ready by then.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is offering the program to public, private and charter K-12 schools. It's working with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Participating students, staff and teachers would submit to regular weekly testing — regardless if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms — as a means to help schools identify positive cases early, according to a story by the Missouri Independent. Those tests then would be processed as a batch by a lab, rather than individually. If the result is positive, then each person would be tested individually to identify the positive case.

The state health department and DESE are "very close" to finalizing an emergency contract for a vendor to operate the program for the first half-year, a health department spokesman told the news agency.

A DHSS spokesman also said the department anticipates the program will launch shortly after the contract is executed.

The Missouri Independent reported schools would apply to participate in the program.

The program would facilitate pooled testing and offer a testing manager, supplies, a software platform to track results and more. Examples of its use in DHSS' guide of the program include testing classrooms as a cohort, regular testing of children younger than 12 years old who aren't yet eligible to take Pfizer's vaccine or helping facilitate safe participation in extracurriculars like sports or band, the news agency reported.

The CDC said the program is central to its guidance for the reopening of schools.

We also believe the program could be a valuable tool toward fighting this pandemic. As a nation, we've spent large sums of money on programs that only indirectly target COVID-19. Programs such as this will have a direct impact at tackling this pandemic.

We urge DESE and DHSS to expedite the contract so the program can begin. We also urge schools to consider participating.

News Tribune

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