FCPS will also participate in the Test to Stay pilot program


Amidst the snow that stopped Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) from opening early in the week, long lines at COVID-19 testing sites — which all had to close early after reaching full capacity — also hindered the return from winter break. 

The COVID testing was voluntary and only meant for symptomatic FCPS students and staff. Testing was not required for students to return to school this week. 

On Dec. 30, the testing location at Gatehouse Road reached capacity at 1:24 p.m. The long lines also caused traffic backups, according to WUSA9. 

“Our intent is to remain open as we navigate this COVID spike - doing everything we can to mitigate spread and cover classes to keep us operational. After hearing from the community regarding the limited availability of testing, we worked very hard with our vendor at the last minute to offer this service to staff and students who are symptomatic, and would like to know their health status before returning to school or work,” the FCPS website stated with an update on Dec. 31, prior to opening the testing site for that day.  

The Gatehouse Road location reached capacity on Dec. 31 at 11:20 a.m., prompting FCPS to offer additional days of testing.

On both Jan. 1 and Jan. 2 at South County High School, the testing site closed after reaching capacity at 10 a.m. The location opened at 9 a.m. both days.  

Aside from this testing for symptomatic individuals, FCPS is also participating in the newly announced pilot program Test to Stay, which “is a practice comprised of contact tracing and serial testing (testing that is sequentially repeated) to allow school-associated close contacts who are not fully vaccinated to continue in-person learning during their quarantine period,” according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 

The Virginia Department of Health will be leading FCPS through the test to stay program. Dr. Laurie Forlano, deputy director of epidemiology at the Virginia Department of Health, told WTOP that Test to Stay should benefit unvaccinated students the most, since vaccinated students will not have to quarantine after exposure. 

“We should expect that test-to-stay should help limit the disruption to school for kids who aren’t yet fully vaccinated. Instead of them having to stay home because there might be case after case, they’ll be able to stay in school,” Forlano said. 

FCPS noted that more information on Test to Stay will be available once the Virginia Department of Health implements the program throughout the Commonwealth. 

For some, like the Fairfax County Parents Association (FCPA), keeping schools open is a priority. In a statement released on Jan. 2, FCPA said that it was grateful for the school board “for holding strong to their commitment to in-person learning” and that the impacts of stopping in-person education for students have been harmful. 

“As people in our community attend parties, sporting events, the theater, and happy hours, we must not fall into the trap of holding children hostage to COVID panic by denying them access to in-person education. We urge members of the community, including teachers’ union and political party officials, to support our community’s children and the effort of FCPS to keep schools open. Students all over the United States and throughout other nations have been prioritized by their governments and communities for years. Schools should be the very last institutions to close,” the release stated.

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