SANTA FE – The Department of Health has started distributing a $ 63 million federal grant to provide funds and direct assistance to help schools in New Mexico pay for and run mandatory COVID testing programs.
The National Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity Funding Program award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to be used during this fiscal year to help schools meet surveillance testing requirements and retain students and staff in schools.
“Testing and immunization are two of the most important tools we have to protect our students, our schools, our communities and our state,” said Acting DOH Secretary David R. Scrase, MD. “With this new grant, schools will have even more resources to support safe, in-person learning.
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“Surveillance testing is an essential part of our protocols to ensure the safety of schools and the health of students and staff,” said Public Education Secretary-designate Kurt Steinhaus. “With this grant, schools will have the funding and practical support they need to accomplish this task without taking money out of academic programs.”
All 50 states received an award in April from the ELC Reopening Schools grant, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act. The grant specifies that 85% of the funding is to go directly to schools to improve testing, which is seen as a major factor in mitigating COVID and important in keeping schools open.
New Mexico’s original plan – which is subject to change based on many unknown variables – would support three main elements:
• The state has contracted with a national supplier to make the tests more easily accessible and less burdensome for schools. Premier Medical Group will provide clinically competent staff at every school in New Mexico that wishes to perform weekly testing on all unvaccinated staff and unvaccinated students who have parental permission. PMG staff could begin appearing in schools as early as this week to administer tests and perform administrative and reporting services.
• About $ 30 million is distributed among public, charter, private, Bureau of Indian Education, and tribal schools to strengthen their testing health services. The shares will be based on a uniform base minimum associated with an amount per student enrolled. Schools can use this funding for a wide range of COVID testing activities, including hiring school nurses, health assistants, social workers and mental health counselors or by supplementing the salaries of existing staff. that supports any component of the school’s COVID mitigation program. The funds can also be used for costs such as licenses, waste management service fees, and associated equipment needs.
• Any remaining funding after these priorities are met will be used to improve the information technology infrastructure to reduce the time taken for administrative activities of testing education activities and staff.
The Department of Public Education requires surveillance testing for all schools offering in-person student services, including athletics. The goal of surveillance testing is to detect outbreaks of COVID-19 as early as possible by screening asymptomatic people.
COVID-19 surveillance testing programs test unvaccinated and asymptomatic individuals to discover undiagnosed cases and to better understand the rate of infection in the community. Staff and students who provide evidence of COVID-19 vaccination and those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days are not included in surveillance testing.
Districts and charter schools should ensure that any staff who have not provided proof of COVID-19 vaccination and who are working on-site participate in COVID-19 testing each week that student services are provided. at school.
Schools are required to provide student surveillance testing programs to all unvaccinated students on a voluntary basis. As per CDC guidelines, those who participate in athletics and other extracurricular activities are strongly encouraged to participate in surveillance tests. Schools have a weekly goal of testing 25% of unvaccinated students.