SANTA FE – The New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) has announced that New Mexico public school students will be offered school-based COVID-19 testing opportunities as a further tool to enhance safety amid the continuing pandemic.
Student testing is completely voluntary and at no cost to students. Districts and charter schools will implement student testing programs as soon as possible but no later than the week of April 26.
Students who show proof of being fully vaccinated and students who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days will not be asked to participate.
Testing identifies cases in the school that might otherwise go undetected, allowing the virus to spread further among students and staff. High rates of negative test results inspire confidence that protective measures are working, especially in high-risk activities like sports.
“This is a voluntary student surveillance testing program – it’s a service we’re putting out to the community. This will help build public confidence that schools are safe,” Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said. “By testing student volunteers, we can get better information about what’s happening in schools with the virus and get communication out into the community about how our precautionary measures are working.”
The goal is for schools to test 1 percent of students in the general pool weekly and 10 percent of individuals participating in sports and activities.
“We still have significant transmission in many of our communities, and we are not past the risk of another surge in disease that results in significant risk to life and health. Testing is one of the tools we have to minimize the risk of this happening,” said Dr. Daniel Sosin, an epidemiologist at the state Department of Health.
Schools are already required to conduct surveillance testing of unvaccinated staff members at rates determined by each county’s color on the Department of Health heat map. Turquoise counties must test 5 percent of eligible staff per week; green and yellow counties must test 12.5 percent; and red counties must test 25 percent .
To facilitate staff and voluntary student testing, the Public Education Department and the Department of Health are offering schools a range of testing options at no cost. The options include BinaxNOW antigen tests, the statewide VAULT mail-in testing program, and on-site tests administered through Curative.
BinaxNOW testing is an option, not a requirement, to help schools with a range of testing situations. For example, BinaxNOW can be used for individuals with chronic conditions such as asthma or allergies that present with mild COVID-19 like symptoms; individuals with negative test results may return to class without a doctor’s diagnosis. It also could be used for weekly testing of students with disabilities who cannot wear a mask as a way for them to stay in school.
Rather than testing for antibodies, antigen tests determine if a patient currently has COVID-19 virus. BinaxNOW is a nasal swab, but the swab does not need to be inserted beyond the front part of the nose, and results are available in just a few minutes.
Schools received an order form Thursday for BinaxNOW tests, and the test kits will begin arriving next week. Online training will begin Monday. Any trained individual can administer the BinaxNOW test, so testing does not require schools to have a health office.
Families will have the option to order VAULT test kits, now used in staff testing, for student testing. Those tests – available at no cost from the statewide VAULT testing program, can be completed at home with results provided – voluntarily – to the school.
The Department of Health can give schools access to the Curative Testing Co., which can come onsite to collect a minimum of 20 specimens for COVID-19 testing. Curative also may be able to train staff to collect the specimens themselves.
Student testing programs are voluntary, opt-in services. No student is required to be tested. Consent from parents will be required for minor children or from students for students who have reached the age of majority.