At more than 50 sites across Vermont Thursday, families picked up COVID-19 test kits they can administer to their children at home before the end of the holiday school vacation.
The Vermont Department of Health has been urging a combination of vaccinations for kids aged 5 and up, virus prevention measures, and COVID-19 testing in order to help limit the spread of disease in communities — especially with the more-transmissible omicron variant now driving a new wave of infections across the Northeast.
Operation Kits for Kids is rolling out tens of thousands of rapid test kits this week.
Parents must pre-register their K-12 students' names and schools to score the at-home tests, which come two per box.
"They're impossible to find, so this is really a big deal," mom Trinity Schroeter said Thursday at a pickup site in Colchester.
The state is encouraging parents to test their kids twice, at least 24 hours apart, before school starts back up next week.
Slowing and limiting the spread of COVID could help keep schools open and kids learning without interruption, the administration of Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont said.
"I want to be clear: these tests are not intended as a requirement for students returning to school," Vermont Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said Tuesday at his final weekly COVID-19 press briefing before retiring from his post. "But they do offer families the opportunity to test their children before they return to the classroom following the winter break."
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At that same briefing, Dr. Mark Levine, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, addressed the large number of people taking at-home rapid tests — when they can find them.
"If you test positive with an at-home test, and you're not severely ill, please do not go to the nearest emergency department," Levine urged.
Instead, this Vermont Department of Health website outlines what you should do. The list includes calling your doctor's office, isolating, notifying close contacts and registering that positive test result online.
Agencies that serve harder-to-reach groups, such as those without cars, are helping with test kit distribution to ensure equity, according to the Scott administration.
"I encourage families to take advantage of these rapid tests," Scott said in a written statement about Operation Kits for Kids. "Testing your child before school starts gives you peace of mind and will slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. It also will help protect the most vulnerable and keep schools open, so kids can get the education they need and deserve."
State officials have said they are working with the federal government and other channels to secure more rapid tests, since they are in such high demand. However, Smith said Vermont is as constrained as other states by the national shortage.
A range of other testing options do exist aside from rapid tests, Smith emphasized. He pointes Vermonters to this website to find a location near them for COVID testing.
Pre-registering for pickups for the K-12 students’ tests is necessary in order to ensure equitable and accurate distribution around the state, officials explained.
"I got an email from our superintendent yesterday, and I was able to just click, register, and then drive here and there wasn't even a line, so I found it to be really easy and I'm very grateful that we have these tests," mom Katherine Schad said after getting kits from one of the Colchester sites.
Operation Kits for Kids continues Friday for Vermonters, with pickup sites around the state.