COVID-19 surveillance testing plan for Wyoming teachers in the works

CHEYENNE – Though details have yet to be revealed, state leaders announced Wednesday that Wyoming will implement a COVID-19 surveillance testing plan for teachers once school starts back later this month.

The plan, which Gov. Mark Gordon and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow discussed at a news conference, will likely resemble surveillance testing already being done at long-term care facilities across the state. Under that plan, at least 20% of staff and residents have been tested every two weeks.

“This is important for a couple of reasons,” Gordon said. “One, obviously we want to monitor what’s going on with the infection rate, and then, more appropriately, we also want to ensure that teachers know they have access to (testing) and feel comfortable coming back to school.”

The surveillance testing will be a voluntary program, Gordon said, allowing individual districts to opt out of the initiative.

“We haven’t heard any specific pushback at this time (from districts),” Gordon said. “But … there are lots of different categories of ways to test people, and we really want to be able to fit the circumstances to what’s on the ground and work with local school districts to make sure that happens.”

Balow, meanwhile, said many schools are trying to reconfigure the spaces in their facilities to allow for as much social distancing as possible.

“We’re in a good place, but certainly there will be course corrections, there will be challenges, and there will be innovations and great ideas that come forth,” Balow said.

Each of Wyoming’s 48 school districts have submitted their reopening plans to Balow’s department, and the plans must include preparations for three different operational tiers: fully in-person, fully virtual and somewhere in between.

The likelihood of an outbreak that halts in-person instruction, however, remains to be seen.

During the news conference Wednesday, State Public Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said she was confident in the measures in place for K-12 schools, which include requiring face coverings whenever social distancing isn’t possible.

“I did say last week that I do expect that there will be some cases among students and school staff over time, but I wouldn’t say that I expect an overall increase that is directly caused by or connected to schools,” Harrist said.

“We have had very few cases or outbreaks connected to day cares or other summer activities, such as baseball or camps this year, which shows that these measures can be effective,” she added.

Harrist noted there is no recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to do surveillance testing in schools, but said, “It’s certainly something that we think could be beneficial and would like to offer, since we do have the ability to do so.”

The state will be rolling out more details soon, Balow said. At that point, districts will have an opportunity to consider it.

Reached after the news conference, Laramie County School District 1 Superintendent Boyd Brown was unaware of the testing plan.

“I’m sure we’ll have some folks that would be interested, but I can’t guarantee that, because I don’t know what they’re really looking at,” Brown said.