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DHS Releases New and Updated Resources for Schools to Keep Students Safe

To help keep students and teachers safe during the 2021-2022 school year, the Department of Health Services (DHS) today launched a K-12 School Testing Program communications toolkit. This toolkit will support school districts and school administrators’ efforts to connect with school staff, families, and communities about the COVID-19 testing opportunities available to them through the schools participating in this program. DHS has also released an updated version of the Guidelines for the Prevention, Investigation, and Control of COVID-19 Outbreaks in K-12 Schools in Wisconsin, a resource for school administrators and local and tribal health departments to use as they work together to make decisions about layered prevention strategies and to prevent and control COVID-19 outbreaks.

“It is important to remember that the most effective tool in our toolbox is vaccination. Masking up inside and getting tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms are additional, important steps we can take to help protect ourselves, our families, our kids, and our teachers and school staff,” said DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake. “That is why I am so grateful to see districts and schools collaborating with their public health officials, consulting this guidance, and enrolling in our testing program. I know this work will help protect the health of our students, and help ensure the quality of their education and the safety of our teachers and staff.”

As of mid-July, over 300 public school districts and private/independent charter schools had enrolled in the testing program, representing over 50 percent of public school districts and 10 percent of private/independent charter schools in Wisconsin. As of current enrollment, the testing program has the potential to cover almost 60 percent of Wisconsin students. A one-time consent form signed by a parent or guardian will allow students to participate in the testing program. Enrollment remains open, and interested districts and schools are encouraged to learn more about the COVID-19 K-12 School Testing Program.

“As a former Wisconsin school district leader who led a school district through COVID-19 last year, I know many students and families desire in-person learning and a safe return to the classroom this fall. We want schools open for in-person instruction. And we want to keep kids, educators, and families safe,” said Wisconsin State Superintendent Dr. Jill Underly. “The joint guidance we are strongly recommending districts follow provides a roadmap for a safe return to in-person school.”

The Delta variant is highly infectious and is widespread in all parts of Wisconsin, as it is across the country. As the Delta variant spread increases, so does the risk that new, potentially more dangerous variants will develop. That is why state health officials are urging all eligible Wisconsinites to get the COVID-19 vaccine, wear a mask indoors or when gathering outside, and follow other best health practices. The vaccine is extremely effective against serious disease, hospitalizations, and death. While getting vaccinated remains the very best way to stop the spread of this deadly virus, we also need to have multiple layers of protection including universal masking in schools, particularly to protect those who are too young to get the vaccine as well as those with compromised immune systems.

“If your child is 12 years old or older, please get them vaccinated. And make sure you get your COVID-19 vaccine, too,” said Secretary-designee Timberlake. “Each additional person who gets vaccinated helps protect their family, their community, and our entire state. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is an individual action that has community-wide impact.”

Schools will keep their students and staff safe by following this updated guidance and implementing testing. The updated school outbreak guidance emphasizes the importance of safe, in-person instruction by providing layered prevention strategies, including promoting COVID-19 vaccination among staff and eligible students, universal mask-wearing regardless of vaccination status, screening testing, and others. The new communications toolkit includes a suggested timeline, key messages, and sample internal and external messages, all of which are easy to customize to the unique needs of each district and school.

Many schools are hosting COVID-19 vaccination clinics for their staff, eligible students, family members, and in some cases, the general public. Visit the DHS COVID-19: K-12 Schools webpage or to learn more about available vaccine providers and sites.

Parents and guardians can also learn more about the importance of testing by watching testimonials from Wisconsin parents and school administrators in the COVID-19 Testing in Schools video, and can visit the COVID-19 Healthy Kids webpage for other resources about protecting children from COVID-19.