Colorado K-12 students might soon have a little more incentive to get tested regularly for COVID-19.
Gov. Jared Polis told Denver7 the state is working on a plan to pay students a cash incentive if they participate in surveillance testing. The goal is to regularly test asymptomatic students for COVID-19, in hopes of reducing the spread of the virus in schools. Polis said surveillance testing would be one piece of a plan to keep schools safe and open.
"So, it's not like you just do regular testing and forget about everything else, but along with ventilation and mask wearing and symptom screening, testing can be part of making schools among the safest places to be," Polis said.
Unlike many colleges which have mandated vaccines, K-12 schools in Colorado are not requiring students to be vaccinated, and students under 12 are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. As school resumes this month, and amid rising cases of the delta variant, there's concern that Colorado schools may see outbreaks similar to what's happened in other states.
Polis said the state is still working with the federal government to determine what kind of cash incentive is allowed, but it might be somewhere in the range of $5 to $25 per weekly test.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has been working to expand school-based COVID-19 testing using $173 million in federal funding. The CDPHE has released a Request For Proposal for providers to administer the testing and report results, but have not yet selected any testing vendors.
Polis said despite surveillance testing being available in Colorado, it hasn’t been very popular.
“We offered it to educators in the state, childcare workers, private school teachers — over 100,000 people — and only about 2,000 signed up and used it,” Polis said.
That’s why he said he believes the incentive element will be important.
Polis emphasized that school districts would be in charge of determining how to implement surveillance testing.
In a press conference Thursday morning, he said 501 Coloradans are currently in hospital beds with COVID-19, and of those, seven are children who are 10 years old and younger, and 10 are children 11 to 19 years old. A large number of children 7-12 years old don't exhibit symptoms when compared to adults in their 50s, 60s and 70s, he said.
Polis said this kind of surveillance testing is part of a layered protection approach — combined with masks, social distancing, vaccinations for adults, and more — to avoid spreading the virus. No singular action is a silver bullet, but combined, they put up a strong defense, he explained.
The rapid testing, which is optional, is available in any school district that wants it. Polis said he is still exploring what the individual incentive for participating students and families may look like, noting the money would come from the federal government. He said the incentive would be an acknowledgment that the tests take some time and the child may need to arrive to school early.
Polis said the details would be rolled out later, but there may also be financial support for schools that opt in.