NORFOLK, Va. — Going to school still isn’t the way it used to be. Classrooms are far from normal, even if the students inside have gone back to in-person learning.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, some school divisions have opted in to a new COVID testing program in the commonwealth.
The Virginia School Screening Testing for Assurance program - ViSSTA for short - is a partnership between the Virginia Department of Health and the Department of Education.
“As the tides changed, I think demand and interest in this sort of changed too," Dr. Laurie Forlano, Deputy Director with the Virginia Department of Health's Office of Epidemiology, said.
The program aims to cut down classroom transmission by catching asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic cases, by connecting schools with vendors that provide on-site COVID testing.
There are three school divisions in Hampton Roads that have so far taken part in the program, slotted for the 2021-2022 academic school year: Williamsburg-James City County, Chesapeake Public Schools, Suffolk Public Schools.
This testing effort originally started out as a pilot program from the VDH this spring, as a partnership with Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests. It's since developed into what Dr. Forlano calls a more comprehensive testing strategy.
Those school divisions that were originally a part of the rapid testing pilot program were grandfathered into the current ViSSTA initiative.
"I wasn’t sure if we’d get anybody to sign up in the spring! Mainly because the disease trends were really favorable over the summer," Dr. Forlano said.
By adding PCR testing capabilities and expanding the program's resources, Dr. Forlano says the VDH can stretch the budget for the program.
“Pooled testing definitely lends to cost and time. When you’re testing a lot of people, it allows us to stretch the dollar just a little more," Dr. Forlano said.
Here are the 17 public school divisions in the state taking part in ViSSTA:
Public Schools: Alexandria City Public Schools, Bath County Public Schools, Carroll County Public Schools, Charlottesville City Schools, Chesapeake Public Schools, Dickenson County Public Schools, Grayson County Public Schools, Hopewell City Public Schools, Madison County Public Schools, Rockingham County Public Schools, Suffolk Public Schools, Williamsburg-James City County, Wise County Public Schools
There are also private schools, including some in Hampton Roads, that are part of the program too. Those schools are:
Benjamin & Lillian Rochkind Yeshiva of Virginia, Community High School, Gesher- JDS, Rudlin Torah Academy, Springhouse Community School, StoneBridge School, Strelitz International Academy, Tandem Friends School, The Siena School, Washington International Academy, Veritas School
The VDH says since the spring, more than 60 school divisions in the state have expressed interest in these testing opportunities.