NMDOH Acting Secretary David R. Scrase, M.D.
…Districts may use money for any testing-related activities
SANTA FE – The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) has begun distributing a federal grant to provide funds and direct assistance to help New Mexico schools pay for and execute mandated COVID-testing programs.
The award from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity Funding program is for use in this fiscal year to help schools meet surveillance testing requirements and keep students and staff in schools.
“Testing and vaccination are two of the most important tools we have to protect our students, our schools, our communities, and our state,” said NMDOH Acting Secretary David R. Scrase, M.D. “Thanks to this new grant, schools will have even more resources to support safe, in-person learning.”
“Surveillance testing is a critical part of our protocols to keep schools safe and students and staff healthy,” Public Education Secretary Designate Kurt Steinhaus said. “With this grant, schools will have the funding and hands-on support they need to complete this task without pulling money from academic programs.”
All 50 states received an award in April from the ELC Reopening Schools grant, funded through the American Rescue Plan Act. The grant specifies that 85% of funding must go directly to schools to improve testing, which is believed to be a major factor in COVID mitigation and significant in keeping schools open.
New Mexico’s initial plan – which is subject to change based on many unknown variables – would support three major components:
- The state has contracted with a national vendor to make tests more readily available and less burdensome to schools. Premier Medical Group will provide clinically capable personnel to every New Mexico school that wishes to perform testing every week on all unvaccinated staff and unvaccinated students who have parental permission. PMG staff could begin appearing in schools as early as this week to administer tests and perform administrative and reporting services.
- About $30 million is being divided among public, charter, private, Bureau of Indian Education and tribal schools to strengthen their testing-related health services. Shares will be based on a uniform, basic minimum coupled with a per-enrolled student amount. Schools may use this funding for a broad range of COVID-testing activities, including hiring school nurses, health assistants, social workers and mental health counselors or supplementing salaries of existing staff who support any component of the school’s COVID mitigation program. Funds can also be used for costs like licensing, waste management service fees, and associated equipment requirements.
- Any remaining funding after those priorities are met will be used to improve the information technology infrastructure to reduce the time testing administrative activities take from educational activities and staff.
The Public Education Department requires surveillance testing for all schools providing in-person student services, including athletics. The purpose of surveillance testing is to detect COVID-19 outbreaks as early as possible by screening asymptomatic individuals.
COVID-19 surveillance testing programs test unvaccinated, asymptomatic individuals to discover undiagnosed cases and to better understand the rate of infection in the community. Staff and students who provide evidence of COVID-19 vaccination and those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days are not included in surveillance testing.
Districts and charter schools must ensure that any staff member who has not provided evidence of COVID-19 vaccination and who works onsite participate in COVID-19 testing each week that student services are provided at school.
Schools are required to provide student surveillance testing programs to all unvaccinated students on a voluntary basis. In alignment with CDC guidance, those who participate in athletics and other extracurricular activities are strongly encouraged to participate in surveillance testing. Schools have a weekly goal of testing 25 percent of unvaccinated students.