ViSSTA Program Launches for 2021-2022 School Year
The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) are partnering to launch a new COVID-19 testing program for the 2021 - 2022 school year, Virginia School Screening Testing for Assurance (ViSSTA). ViSSTA will provide testing vendors, supplies, and staffing to support an end-to-end COVID-19 testing experience with the goal of maximizing resources available to schools to navigate full in-person instruction in the fall and minimizing added responsibilities to existing school staff. CDC and VDH strongly recommend COVID-19 testing in schools and COVID-19 testing remains an important mitigation strategy, intended to be combined or layered with other prevention strategies such as masking, vaccination, and physical distancing. For more information on why testing in schools remains a critical prevention tool, refer to the Overview of ViSSTA Program and Importance of Testing in Schools document.
At the core of ViSSTA will be vendor-conducted pooled PCR testing. Contractors will conduct pooled testing at participating schools at least weekly and provide end-to-end support (e.g., supplies, staff to conduct testing, PPE, biohazard waste removal, reporting tools). VDH also plans to provide support for conducting confirmatory testing in the event a pool returns a positive test result. Under this model, schools’ primary responsibilities are:
- Identify groups for testing (e.g., all students, all staff, specific extracurricular programs)
- Coordinate the collection of student/staff consent forms
- Provide space and time for testing
- Implement any containment/mitigation guidance
- Comply with reporting requirements
Schools may also request testing support for special events (e.g., back to school/post-vacation, school dances, conferences); this testing support may employ vendor-conducted testing or more flexible methods, such as self-test point-of-care PCR tests.
Schools participating in ViSSTA will be eligible to receive funds from VDOE to hire any additional staff needed to support COVID-19 testing, which may include school-based nurses and administrative support staff.
Additionally, schools may request funds for any technology, supply, or infrastructure needs that will support testing, such as tents to conduct outdoor testing or technology to facilitate reporting.
Schools/school divisions have the opportunity to opt-in to the ViSSTA program. VDH strongly recommends that schools consider participating in the ViSSTA program. Testing will be voluntary for students and staff at participating schools. Only individuals who return completed consent forms may be tested.
Schools are asked to indicate their interest in participating in the program by completing this intent form by July 15. (The date has been extended from orginal date of July 1.) Both public and private schools are invited to complete the form; depending on the number of responses received by July 15, public schools will be prioritized for support, if necessary. The program will launch for the start of the new school year in Fall 2021.
In the interim, any school divisions/schools with questions may contact firstname.lastname@example.org. This page will continue to be updated as more information becomes available.
Standing Office Hours
The VDH K-12 Testing Office Hours are every Thursday from 3:00 - 4:00pm beginning July 15th. School staff and stakeholders can register for office hours and bring up any questions related to the K-12 Testing Program. Click here to register
ViSSTA will launch in time for the start of school in Fall 2021. In the meantime, schools may continue to participate in the BinaxNOW pilot program. Information on the pilot program is below.
The Virginia Department of Education in collaboration with VDH is launching two K-12 school testing pilot programs. These pilot programs begin in April: a diagnostic testing pilot program and a screening testing pilot program.
VDH will provide free testing supplies and implementation guidance to schools that choose to participate in these programs. For information on each of the pilot programs, including school responsibilities and resources provide by VDH, see the program overview documents:
- K-12 COVID-19 Diagnostic Testing Pilot Program Overview
- K-12 COVID-19 Screening Testing Pilot Program Overview
- K-12 COVID-19 Testing Readiness Review Checklist
More detailed information on both programs can also be found in the COVID-19 Testing Pilot Programs Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). Additionally, the K-12 BinaxNOW Testing Process Flow graphic depicts how testing is implemented in schools at a high-level.
If at any point in the process, schools have additional questions, they should reach out to email@example.com.
Pilot Program Office Hours
VDH will host K-12 Testing Office Hours every Thursday from 3:00 - 4:00 p.m. if the pilot program schools have any questions. If you are interested in attending an office hours session, please register using this link.
K-12 Statewide Standing Order
The BinaxNOW Ag cards currently available to schools are prescription-only items, which require an order from a person with prescriptive authority (e.g., physician). However, Dr. Oliver, the State Health Commissioner, has also signed a statewide standing order to authorize BinaxNOW testing for students and staff in K-12 schools. Schools that elect to use the K-12 Statewide Standing Order will not need a separate prescription to perform testing, but will need to comply with all provisions of the Order, including identifying a licensed healthcare professional (e.g., school nurse) to provide supervision.