The Bulletin Board

Sununu appeals to CDC to extend school testing funding

By: - March 25, 2022 2:33 pm

Gov. Chris Sununu has requested an extension of a CDC program that helps schools provide tests to students. (George Frey | Getty Images)

Gov. Chris Sununu appealed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thursday to extend funding for a program that helps test public school students.

In a letter to CDC director Rochelle Walensky, Sununu said the program, the Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity Reopening Schools program, has helped New Hampshire schools “keep their doors open” by providing flexible testing opportunities for schools that opt in.

The CDC program is set to expire July 2022; Sununu has requested that the end date be extended to July 2023. 

The federal initiative has helped New Hampshire stand up its own initiative, Safer at Schools Screening. That program was originally designed to allow schools to access COVID-19 antigen and PCR tests for asymptomatic students and staff to head off potential outbreaks. But as schools faced outbreaks last fall and winter, the Department of Health and Human Services allowed schools to use the tests to measure active cases, too. Students must receive parental permission to get tested or be of age to consent to the tests directly.

New Hampshire’s program, known as SASS, experienced some early hurdles. Initially, in the summer of 2021, school districts were slow to sign up. Those that did saw delays. The state program required the schools to be certified with clinical laboratories in order to properly administer the tests, a process that took many schools more than a month to complete.

In early January, amid the height of the omicron variant and the return to school from winter break, public school administrators reported facing widespread shortages in antigen and rapid tests. 

But the CDC funding has allowed the state to provide antigen tests to schools that didn’t participate in SASS, Jake Leon, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email. The program also helped the state reimburse summer camps for PCR tests done when campers and staff arrived and five to seven days afterward; 70 summer camps participated in that reimbursement program last summer. 

In total, New Hampshire has received $40.9 million in grants through the program, Leon said. 

Sununu said the CDC program had proven key to allowing schools to keep classes in person, and said it was particularly important as the state monitors for new variants of COVID-19. And he said the flexible nature of the program allowed schools to design testing regimens that met their needs. 

“New Hampshire schools are already looking ahead to the next calendar year and preparing for future variants to arrive,” Sununu wrote. “We should not leave teachers and educators in the lurch by removing the option to receive critical funding that will help support their efforts.”

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel. Email: [email protected]