OKANOGAN – The Okanogan School District is participating in a state-funded pilot program for voluntary COVID-19 screening and testing.

The program, in collaboration with the state Department of Health, is aimed at helping contain the virus, protecting the community, and keeping students and teachers safe and healthy whether they are in remote or in-person learning situations.

Superintendent Ashley Goetz said the anticipated launch date for testing is Jan. 11.

Okanogan is one of 10 districts participating in the pilot program.

“We are hopeful testing within our schools will give an additional layer of protection for student and staff health and safety during the pandemic,” she said.

“We believe that safe, in-person schooling is a priority – it’s better for students, it’s better for teachers, and it helps parents get back to work – and while it may be difficult, it’s challenge that we can solve,” she wrote in a letter to staff. “It is in all of our best interests to protect the health and safety of our teachers, staff, students and families, and that means that all our decisions will be fact-based.”

She said the district wants staff cooperation and feedback, and will work with them and make adjustments to reach the shared goal of safe, in-person learning.

The voluntary testing protocol includes daily symptom and exposure attestation, free and easy same-day COVID-19 testing, an outbreak response plan, contact tracing, and isolation or quarantine. Students, staff and household members are covered.

Goetz said the district is joining with a company called Curative for painless oral swab test kits.

The district has an outbreak mitigation testing plan that will go into effect if a positive case is identified.

“This testing protocol fits into our larger strategy to contain and control the virus, and all of our protocols are fact-based,” she said. “We are still making changes to allow for social distancing, and we are still asking everybody in our community to mask up, wash their hands, avoid crowds, and watch out for symptoms.

“Each precaution we take is like an added layer of protection, and when used together, they dramatically decrease the risks. Our goal is to put the best possible protocols in place so that our teachers, staff, students and families feel safe, protected, and comfortable focusing on teaching and learning — and so our students can get the great education they deserve.”

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