Test-to-stay COVID-19 program coming to Fairfax County Public Schools

Virginia’s largest public school system will change COVID-19 quarantine requirements in the New Year. Fairfax County Public Schools has been accepted into a test-to-stay pilot program run by the Virginia Department of Health, starting in January, according to a news release.

Under the test-to-stay guidance, students deemed close contacts of other students who have tested positive for COVID-19 can continue in-person classes if they continue to test negative. The school system said the policy aims to prevent excessive quarantine times for students deemed close contacts.

Dr. Laurie Forlano, deputy director of the Virginia Department of Health’s epidemiology office, last week said that the testing pilot program should benefit unvaccinated students the most, since vaccinated children don’t have to quarantine after exposure.

“We should expect that test-to-stay should help limit the disruption to school for kids who aren’t yet fully vaccinated,” Forlano said. “Instead of them having to stay home because there might be case after case, they’ll be able to stay in school.”

In an update on its website Tuesday, FCPS said it is encouraging students to get tested ahead of the returning to school on Jan. 3, since families have traveled and taken part in holiday gatherings as the more contagious omicron variant rapidly spreads.

FCPS will be holding drive-through testing at the Gatehouse Administration Center in Falls Church, Dec. 30 and Dec. 31. Appointments aren’t necessary but you must register for an account in advance to be eligible.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorses test-to-stay policies. The backing came after research of such policies in the Chicago and Los Angeles areas found COVID-19 infections did not increase when using the approach.

“Test-to-stay is an encouraging public health practice to help keep our children in school,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said earlier this month.

Public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, launched a similar test-to-stay pilot program last month. Students who are exposed are required to test daily to ensure they’re still producing negative results.

For FCPS students who test positive for COVID-19, the school system will continue to require a 10-day quarantine, for now, despite the CDC recently cutting the recommended quarantine time to five days.

Shayna Estulin

Shayna Estulin is an anchor/reporter for WTOP. She started her career in New York City as a local TV reporter and has since covered foreign affairs and national politics as a Washington correspondent. She also anchored a nightly news show for an international network.

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