Rapid COVID-19 testing could be available for free on school campuses for students and staff at Dalton Public Schools in Dalton, Georgia, as soon as December.
Mendy Woods, Dalton Public Schools' chief human resource officer, said the district is applying to participate in a Georgia Department of Public Health program that brings free COVID-19 testing to local schools at no cost. She expects the application will be approved and said testing would likely occur once a week at each school in the district if so, with testing taking place at two different schools each school day.
"My understanding is the tests have about a 24-hour turnaround, so test results would be back in about a day," Woods said by phone Wednesday.
Before any testing can take place, Woods said, the district intends to survey parents to gauge interest in the program and determine what staffing needs might look like for each school testing center. District administrators will meet Thursday to discuss logistics, such as possible testing locations and quarantine areas for students and staff who test positive for the coronavirus.
"The possibility of offering COVID-19 testing at our schools would be such a benefit to our students and their families, as well as our staff. We look forward to this partnership and the opportunity to implement this program," Dalton Public Schools Chief of Staff Pat Holloway said in an email Wednesday afternoon. "We will be reaching out to everyone with the interest survey in the next couple of weeks."
Woods said the intent behind bringing testing to the schools is not to require testing but to help those who want to test do so safely and conveniently. In fact, she said no one, regardless of whether they are a student or staff member, will ever be made to take a COVID-19 test at school.
Stressing that participation in the testing program would be "totally voluntary" for students and staff members, Woods said the program would be similar to an already existing partnership that allows Dalton Public Schools staff members to receive free, rapid COVID-19 testing at the Whitfield County Health Department without the need for an appointment.
"It would be very much like that. We're not telling anyone that they have to do this or get tested. We're just making it available," Woods said.
Currently, there are 7,738 students enrolled in Dalton Public Schools. Of those, 7,536 are still coming to school for face-to-face instruction, while others have opted to learn digitally from home. Even those students will have the opportunity to get tested for free if they wish to do so, according to Woods, who said district employees and students could participate "regardless of where they are learning or working from."
According to the most recent data reported by Dalton Public Schools on Sunday, there were 28 active positive student cases and two active positive staff cases of the virus districtwide last week. The data also showed there were 222 active student and five active staff quarantines during the same time period.
In Whitfield County, 40% of residents are fully vaccinated, and 45% have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Vaccines are free statewide for everyone, and identification is not required when getting vaccinated.
For more information on how to get vaccinated in North Georgia, visit nghd.org or nwgapublichealth.org. Contacts for other COVID-19 vaccine providers in the area are available at vaccines.gov.
Contact Kelcey Caulder at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @kelceycaulder.