FARMINGTON – New Mexico school districts and charter schools implemented COVID-19 testing programs this week to further “enhance safety” during the pandemic.
New Mexico Public Education Department spokeswoman Judy Robinson said in an email Monday that the department gave districts and charter schools until Tuesday to implement testing programs for students.
Student testing is voluntary, and the results of the program are not required to be shared with the Public Education Department; rather, the school health advocates at the New Mexico Department of Health will collect the data about the programs.
The goal, Robinson said, is to test 1% of the general student population each week and 10% of all student athletes each week.
Testing is completely voluntary and will not cost students anything.
“This is a voluntary student surveillance testing program – it’s a service we’re putting out to the community. This will help build public confidence that schools are safe,” Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said. “By testing student volunteers, we can get better information about what’s happening in schools with the virus and get communication out into the community about how our precautionary measures are working.”
Testing within the school can help identify cases that might otherwise go undetected, which would allow the virus to spread further within the school, Robinson said.
“High rates of negative test results inspire confidence that protective measures are working, especially in high-risk activities like sports,” Robinson said.
Schools are required to conduct surveillance testing of unvaccinated staff members at rates determined by each county’s color on the Department of Health county map. Turquoise counties must test 5% of eligible staff per week, green and yellow counties must test 12.5, and red counties must test 25%. As of this week, San Juan County would test at 12.5% because the county is in the Yellow Level.
“We still have significant transmission in many of our communities, and we are not past the risk of another surge in disease that results in significant risk to life and health. Testing is one of the tools we have to minimize the risk of this happening,” said Dr. Daniel Sosin, an epidemiologist at the state Department of Health.
Student testing options include BinaxNOW, an antigen test to determine if a student currently has COVID-19; VAULT testing, which is a mail-in testing program; or Curative Testing, which is on-site at the school.