Typically, any students who are deemed close contacts of someone who tests positive for the virus in Fairfax County Public Schools are sent home to quarantine for ten days, disrupting in-person learning for remote learning.
FCPS provides an alternative to quarantining to its unvaccinated students through the division's participation in the Virginia Department of Health's Virginia Test to Stay Pilot Program.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed "test-to-stay" on Dec. 17, 2021. "Test to Stay is an encouraging public health strategy allowing kids to stay in school, even if exposed to #COVID19, so they don't miss school to quarantine. Test to Stay + multi-layered prevention strategies help keep children safe & in school for in-person learning," said Rochelle Walensky, MD, and @CDCDirector.
According to Kathleen Miller, FCPS media outreach specialist, FCPS began its pilot program the first week in February 2022. "South Lakes High, Robinson Secondary, Katherine Johnson Middle School, Glasgow Middle School, Bush Hill Elementary School, Baileys Primary School, and Hybla Valley Elementary School … all participate," she said. FCPS is one of the first school systems in Virginia to roll out the program.
Dr. Tammy Silipigni is the principal of Katherine Johnson MS in Fairfax, one of the participating schools. She said, "I think it helps alleviate a lot of parent concerns when they hear their child was in close contact because they are getting that every-day-able to test for those critical days when they're worried themselves," she said. Silipigni noted that the school has a population of students that have not elected to be vaccinated. "This is helping kids who will be out much longer than their peers," she added.
Silipigni said she had heard from some parents who were initially excited about the test-to-stay program, "but they didn't realize it was for unvaccinated."
Asymptomatic students who are not up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccines, willing and able to mask, with a signed consent form and no special circumstances existing such as outbreaks are eligible; the exposure must have been school-associated, not from the household. If the student is not eligible, the student must comply with the current FCPS quarantine policy.
Jennie Choi is the Case Manager at Katherine Johnson school. "The test is for five (consecutive) days, weekends and holidays we don't count," she said. The parent sends the school an email in the morning with the proof of the negative test, and the student can attend in person that day.
According to FCPS: "Three FCPS students took advantage of the Test to Stay program during the first two weeks the program was available. These unvaccinated, symptom-free students who were deemed close contacts to a person with Covid-19, were able to continue to attend school while completing daily testing and remaining symptom-free."
According to FCPS, several of the seven participating schools in the pilot program have not yet had any students participate. "FCPS attributes this to high vaccination rates in Fairfax County, especially among middle school and high school-age children."