Va. Health: Avoid unnecessary travel that prompts preventative COVID testing

Virginia’s Health Department is among those eagerly awaiting details of how the federal government intends to distribute hundreds of millions of rapid COVID-19 antigen tests directly to households in America.

“We’re getting more information about that, hopefully, very soon,” said Dr. Laurie Forlano, deputy director of the Virginia Health Department’s Office of Epidemiology.

At-home rapid antigen tests are in short supply. They get distributed as soon as they become available, and Forlano suggests that people interested in testing make an appointment for a more readily available P.C.R. test that provides laboratory results within a few days.

During a media briefing on Tuesday, Forlano said that COVID-19 cases due to the highly transmissible omicron variant are straining the health care and testing systems, and that people seeking tests ahead of travel might want to reconsider their plans.

“Consider the criticality of that kind of testing and whether other options might be possible,” she said.

“During this time of very high community transmission, for example, if you’re a person who is asymptomatic or does not have an exposure, is it possible to postpone that non-essential travel or postpone the gathering with others that may be more vulnerable to serious illness or hospitalizations, et cetera?” Forlano asked rhetorically.

Test-to-stay programs

Providing an update on intentions to launch a test-to-stay pilot program in some commonwealth schools, Forlano said it might be another seven to 10 days because of the snowstorm.

Test-to-stay involves contact tracing and repeated testing to allow children with potential COVID-19 exposure within their schools to attend class during what would have been their quarantine period at home.

A number of Northern Virginia school systems are interested.

Fairfax County and Prince William County Public Schools have been accepted into the pilot program.

Loudoun County Public Schools said in an email that it will implement test-to-stay if the program proves to be effective.

Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland currently has a test-to-stay pilot program underway.

“There are two things to understand. In MCPS, per health guidance, we currently can use test-to-stay for close contacts identified as being exposed during unmasked eating or drinking (lunch). Also, there is a staff component to supervise and manage the children as they arrive at school until they have had their test,” spokesman Chris Cram told WTOP in an email.

The county’s assistant chief administrative officer, Earl Stoddard, announced intentions to greatly expand test-to-stay with the return of students to classrooms this month.

WTOP’S Scott Gelman and Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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