Coronavirus Task Force suggests weekly testing for Florida K-12 teachers

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) (Susan Walsh, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

As COVID-19 vaccines continue to be distributed across the nation, the White House Coronavirus Task Force is urging states to continue and even expand testing.

In its most recent report to date, the task force called on Florida to require weekly testing for all teachers of grades kindergarten through 12.

The report encourages required testing on college campuses as well, but in addition to teachers, suggests students be included. The goal is to quickly identify those non-symptomatic carriers of the virus and keep the disease off campuses.

In last week’s report, the group said the state of Florida is in full COVID-19 resurgence and that the surge is likely due to a new, hyper-spreading variant.

The report said: “Aggressive mitigation must be used to match a more aggressive virus, moving beyond what worked in the summer to more layered mitigation.” Layers like mask-wearing, social distancing, aggressive hygiene practices and more testing.

The task force recommends: “All K-12 teachers and older students, community colleges and universities should require weekly testing, as it dramatically decreases COVID-19 viral spread by identifying and isolating the asymptomatic individuals, as well as symptomatic individuals, and allows for contact tracing.”

But to find out what it would look like, News4Jax spoke with Dr. Robery Schooley, who heads the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of California. He said the campus has been doing aggressive testing since spring, but in December, the university started requiring weekly tests for those on campus after break.

“We increased our testing frequency to weekly, and indeed, what we saw were a large number of cases the first week that came back from vacation with people. And now we’re down to, for the on-campus students, one or two a day again, which is kind of what we expect,” Schooley said.

When asked if the testing had made a noticeable effect in the numbers on campus, Schooley said:

“We have had on campus, and by that I mean in classrooms or in dormitories, as far as we know, not a single case of transmission. The cases that we’ve seen had been in students who live off campus in the San Diego community, which right now is very active.”

The campus has installed COVID-19 test vending machines around campus, which students and teachers can use free-of-charge to swab themselves and turn in at a drop box. An extension of the school’s phone app delivers results within 18 hours, according to Schooley.

It’s unclear what the final cost of the testing program will be. But Schooley said because of the economy of scale, the high volume of tests made it possible and less costly than what he said was the alternative -- closing down the campus until full-scale vaccinations.

College campuses in Northeast Florida are reopening in January, most with COVID-19 measures in place. Jacksonville University starts classes next week and is requiring on-campus students to get a test before returning.

Classes at the University of North Florida have already begun after it strongly recommended students get tested before returning. Free tests are being offered on campus.

About the Author:

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributer to the News4Jax I-team and Facing the Fall coverage.