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Petersburg Schools to voluntarily test for COVID-19

Selected as 1 of 27 school systems nationwide to take part in the testing program
Updated: May. 20, 2021 at 6:35 AM EDT
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PETERSBURG, Va. (WWBT) - Petersburg City Public Schools (PCPS) is one of 27 school systems nationwide selected to take part in a COVID-19 testing initiative.

Earlier this year, discussions were had on federal and state levels looking at access to testing in the K-12 school systems.

On April 29, Petersburg Superintendent Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin received an email from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stating the school system was selected to participate in the program.

“We are the only school division in the state of Virginia selected,” Pitre-Martin said. “It’s exciting for us because it’s truly about increasing community access to testing.”

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services will send $10 billion to states involved to help pay for regular testing for teachers, staff and students at its schools. In Petersburg, the voluntary testing program will run through June.

“[They] can get regular checks just to see how they’re doing,” Pitre-Martin said. “I think it will be preventative and will help folks get ahead of any symptoms that come with COVID-19.”

Several parents told NBC12 they were excited to hear about the opportunity and would allow their children to get tested at the school.

Those tests will start next week - Tuesday, May 25 - and be held twice a week (Tuesdays & Wednesdays) at Petersburg High School, Vernon Johns Middle School, Pleasants Lane and Cool Spring Elementary schools.

“The largest number of our students attend Vernon Johns Middle School and Petersburg High School,” Pitre-Martin said. “We selected the two elementary schools… because they were the first schools to have positive tests the first week we opened back up.”

Pharmacists from Rite Aid will administer the test at a site within the school building.

This announcement comes as the school system announced another positive COVID-19 case at Pleasants Lane Elementary School Tuesday. Since students returned to the classroom in March and April, PCPS has reported a little more than 10 positive COVID-19 cases among staff and students.

May 18, 2021 Dear PCPS Community- We want to keep you informed about some important information. Today, we learned...

Posted by Petersburg City Public Schools on Tuesday, May 18, 2021

While those numbers may be low, Pitre-Martin believes what is happening in the community played a part in PCPS’s selection for the initiative.

“I think we were thought of because our rate of COVID-19 cases were high; we’re actually the highest in the Crater Health District,” she said.

Petersburg has seen nearly 3,900 COVID cases since March 2020, but cases aren’t the only reason why Pitre-Martin believes they were chosen for this nationwide program.

“Many of our health risk indicators for the city of Petersburg are at the lower end in the state of Virginia,” she said.

It is why on Friday, high school leaders plan to spread the word about this opportunity using its brand new mobile resource bus – “The Wave.”

“We’ll hopefully be bringing out information about the testing and the vaccines,” Pitre-Martin said.

However, the school system may have its work cut out for them convincing parents to get their children vaccinated.

A vaccination interest form created earlier this month by the Crater Health District only showed around 100 Petersburg families who were interested in getting their children vaccinated.

“We think that might change over time and more get comfortable with that process,” Pitre-Martin said.

Meanwhile, school leaders said a lot has changed over the school year as it works to support students and their families during this ongoing pandemic.

“Not only have we been focused on academics and family supports, but now we have moved on to really dealing with those medical needs we know our community will have,” she said.

More information can be found here about the COVID-19 testing program.

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