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Scott administration officials discuss rapid tests for students during weekly briefing

School bus
Pat Bradley/WAMC

Distribution of rapid tests to families of school children was a focus of Vermont Governor Phil Scott’s weekly COVID-19 briefing Tuesday.

The Republican noted that there were long lines and tens of thousands of rapid tests handed out to Vermonters the week before Christmas. But Scott saw many people unable to get the antigen tests before the state ran out of them.

“We’re doing the best we can with what we have until the federal supply chain starts flowing," Scott said. "We received a shipment of these tests recently. And while a majority are meant for schools and long term care facilities we’re getting any excess rapid tests out the door as fast as we can. We hope that supply will increase and with it greater accessibility. We’ve been working with federal partners for weeks on an initiative to directly distribute tests to households and hope to give you final details soon.”

Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says as the state receives more tests they will get them to Vermonters as quickly as possible. In the meantime he said a priority is getting rapid tests to parents before children return to school from the holiday break.

“The state is going to be providing rapid take home antigen tests to families with children," Smith said. "These tests are going to be distributed across the state and available for kindergarten through 12 students. I want to be clear. These tests are not intended as a requirement for students returning to school. But they do offer families the opportunity to test their children before they return to the classroom following the winter break and we’re urging families to take advantage of these tests.”

The state has been expanding a Test to Stay program in schools and Secretary of Education Dan French says the new distribution initiative is a logical extension of their testing efforts.

“We’ve been making steady progress on the expansion of Test to Stay and the use of antigen tests," French said. "You know prior to the holiday we had added public pre-K into that. We see the broader availability of antigen tests as being a key strategy. But I would hope by mid-January we would start to make a shift where schools are acting more like distribution centers of the testing. So when students are identified through the contact tracing process and so forth that schools would provide an easy means of distribution of the tests for both students and families. Again that’s going to be a key strategy to containing the Omicron variant.”

About 80,000 test kits are expected to be available to parents over the next week.

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