The drive-through COVID testing site in the parking lot of George Washington High School in Denver is one of many locations providing free tests throughout Colorado, January 14, 2021. (Kevin Mohatt, Special to The Colorado Sun)

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat. Sign up for their newsletters at ckbe.at/newsletters

As cases of COVID in young children rise steeply, Colorado public health officials say it’s important to test all students and staff weekly to help reduce disease transmission.

Colorado has allocated $173 million of federal relief money to provide schools with free rapid tests and help in setting up testing programs.

“Our goal with this program is to decrease the spread of COVID-19 within our schools by trying to identify symptomatic and asymptomatic spread as quickly as possible,” said Sarah Hamma, who heads up COVID community testing and vendor partnerships for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “We are aiming to ensure students can continue in-person learning as safely as possible and minimize the number of disruptions from disease transmission.”

So far, 447 schools representing 22 school districts, some private schools, and the state Charter School Institute, which oversees state-authorized charter schools, have signed up for the testing program. That represents about 20% of Colorado’s 2,300 public and private K-12 schools.

Participating districts include the Fort Collins-based Poudre district, Greeley-Evans, Adams 14, and Mapleton, as well as many small rural districts such as Mancos, Ignacio, and Lamar.

Eighty-one schools have completed the enrollment process, and some could start testing after Labor Day. State officials said the exact timing is dependent on school districts working out logistics with the vendors that support the programs.

The program is designed to identify people with symptomatic and asymptomatic cases of COVID so they can isolate before the disease spreads in classrooms and turns into outbreaks that can disrupt in-person learning.

“The weekly cadence allows schools to have a more proactive monitoring on the amount of disease spread happening within the schools,” Hamma said.

Read more at chalkbeat.org.

Erica Meltzer, Chalkbeat

Bureau Chief — Chalkbeat Colorado Email: emeltzer@chalkbeat.org