The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and Governor Greg Gianforte announced on Tuesday that $2.7 million in federal funding has been distributed to public and private schools to help them remain open during the pandemic.

KGVO spoke to Todd Harwell, Administrator for the Public Health and Safety Division for DPHHS and B.J. Bisaupiak to explain the need for a successful screening testing program.

“Really, the main intent of this ELC school reopening funding is to support COVID-19 screening testing in schools using the Binax Now, antigen testing program,” said Bisaupiak. “For our program, the funding covers expenses related to the prevention and detection of COVID-19 in a school setting and that includes staff support PPE, other necessary material to conduct screening testing in the school setting.”

Harwell expanded on that comment.

“The goal for this funding is to help schools be proactive to do screening and testing on both asymptomatic and potentially symptomatic staff, students, and students with permission from their parents or guardians,” said Harwell. “But the goal is to be proactive to prevent outbreaks and the spread of COVID 19 through the schools but I think even more importantly, also prevent staff and students from getting infected and then going home and potentially exposing their family, their grandparents and others as a community based prevention strategy. That’s one of many. There are other things that schools can do including the use of masks, ventilation and hand hygiene. One important one.”

For parents and critics of the test given at school, Harwell said the test is neither painful nor intrusive.

“It's a nasal swab to collect a specimen and then the Binax NOW rapid test kits are basically tests that you take the swab for kids or staff at the school,” said Harwell. “You put it in the little test kits, and then within 15 minutes you'll have a test result either positive or negative for COVID-19. So it's really simple, and not invasive at all.”

Regarding parental consent, Harwell said the test is conducted like any other in a school setting with permission of their parents.

“Schools will get consent,” he said. “They'll notify parents just like they would if you knew a child was having symptoms from some other things but they would notify the parent or guardian if the child was becoming ill and then also get consent to do the testing.”

Harwell said the testing is part of a full spectrum of protective measures for students and staff at public and private schools.

“Testing is one piece of the bigger prevention pie,” he said. “Kids five to 17 are now eligible for all the vaccines, and we would highly recommend that parents get their kids vaccinated against COVID. It’s another strategy to prevent them getting infected but also for family members, grandparents and others in the community.”

To date, funding has been awarded to 75 total public and private school districts. This includes a total of 223 schools with an enrollment of more than 78,000 students.


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