State leaders push for more COVID-19 testing in schools

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While cases of COVID-19 continue to spread and school districts work to keep students and staff as safe as possible, Minnesota state leaders are stressing the importance of testing.

Gov. Tim Walz, alongside the lieutenant governor and health and education leaders, toured Carver Elementary School in Maplewood to see how its testing program is going.

Starting this week, students and staff there have an option to take home a BinaxNOW rapid COVID-19 test — this type of test can have results in as little as 15 minutes.

Walz feels expanding the availability of rapid tests can better control the spread of COVID-19 and help keep kids in the classroom.

“Now we’re starting to get containment of this, we’re starting to get the tracing,” Walz said about tracking the virus to keep students and staff as safe as possible in school. “We’re starting to figure out how that’s done."

Districts have until Oct. 15 to apply to be part of the state’s COVID-19 School Testing Program. Those rapid tests, along with PCR tests — including both nasal swab and saliva tests — are available for schools to order.

By applying to that program, districts could also receive federal money to help with staffing for testing efforts, protective equipment to administer tests and the actual tests. As of Wednesday, according to the Minnesota Department of Education, 66% of schools had applied.

“There’s no public shame or blame in testing,” Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said during Wednesday’s news conference.

As it stands now, individual school districts are in charge of setting their own COVID-19 safety protocols. State leaders are urging all schools to use their guidance, and take advantage of the tools available, including testing, as the school year continues.

This week, Walz called on Republican lawmakers to join him with the calls for districts to set vaccine mandates for school teachers and staff, and mask requirements for everyone in school.

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said the Republican Caucus supports COVID-19 testing in schools, but it doesn’t support mandates for vaccines and masking. The spokesperson added those types of decisions should be left to the local level.