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Utah’s COVID-19 ‘Test to Stay’ school program is no more

A doctor takes a cotton swab coronavirus test from child nose to analyse if positive for covid-19.
The program required all students at a school to test for COVID-19 if a certain percentage of the school population contracted the virus.

In a party-line vote Friday, Utah lawmakers officially ended the Test to Stay program in schools — the statewide requirement that all students in a school get tested for COVID-19 if a certain percentage of the school population contracts the virus.

As the omicron variant has brought record-high infection numbers and a strain on the state’s testing supply, the governor, leaders of the House and Senate and state superintendent temporarily suspended the program in mid-January.

The bill, HB-183, makes the suspension permanent, though individual schools can still choose to test to continue in-person learning.

Now if schools reach the case threshold — 30 or more cases in a school with fewer than 1,500 students or 2% of kids at larger schools — they can also switch to remote learning. But the move must first be voted on and approved by their school board in a public meeting and receive an additional sign-off from the governor and other state leaders.

Democrats objected largely on the grounds that more time was needed in order to get feedback from education stakeholders and the public.

“I recognize that there is a consensus that has developed around the need to adjust Test to Stay,” Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said in the House debate Wednesday. “I don't have a problem with that idea. What I do have a problem with is rushing unnecessarily to debate this important topic on the floor of the House without sufficient cause to go through the regular process for public hearing.”

Bill sponsors Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, and Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, argued a quick response was needed to provide schools clarity quickly.

Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake, requested an amendment to the bill that would add a staffing threshold as well so that when a certain number of school staff are out, it could also trigger a switch to remote learning.

“If you don't have the staff to run the school, that's problematic,” she said. “What this amendment tries to do is to provide a tool to the state board [of education] to establish minimum operational thresholds. “

That amendment was rejected, but Escamilla said she would pursue it in a separate bill later in the 2022 legislative session.

Same day at the legislature: Utah Legislature ends mask mandates in Salt Lake and Summit counties

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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