NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Students across New Mexico are heading back to school and the state is doing what it can to try and track asymptomatic cases among them with surveillance testing. “It’s another safety measure we have in place, another tool in the toolbox,” said Ashley Garcia, Medicaid and Health Services Coordinator with the New Mexico Public Education Department.

The PED is requiring districts and charter schools to offer voluntary COVID testing to students as a way to detect potentially undiagnosed or asymptomatic COVID cases at schools. “It gives us an insight into that school community and potential transmissions that have been prevented thanks to surveillance testing,” said Garcia. PED required this last year but this year is giving the districts the goal of testing 25% of their unvaccinated students a week.

Students can get PCR testing through VAULT, Curative, the Department of Health’s Public Health Office testing sites, or a rapid antigen test through school-based programs according to the PED’s 2021 Toolkit. Parents can then submit the results to the school. Parents who talked to KRQE said it is something they would consider.

“That would be something I would be interested in doing. If we don’t gather a database then we can’t get information to figure out how to fight this,” said one Albuquerque Public Schools parent. “I would be ok with that as long as it’s not happening within the school and as long as the parents are allowed to pick a facility, pick a healthcare provider, that we can take them to.”

“It also benefits the kids too. Because what if one does have COVID then they can quarantine,” said Marcos Ramirez, another APS parent. The PED is also strongly encouraging students who travel for sports or do extracurriculars to take part in the surveillance testing since they may be at increased risk of exposure. To reach that 25% goal, the state said communication and education are key.

“Have that conversation with those individuals who are implementing the program at the local level and maybe some of those barriers or perceived barriers or some of those concerns can be addressed and then worked through,” said Garcia.

While testing is optional for students, districts must test 25% of their staff each week who have not provided proof of full vaccination and still provide onsite services. If a student or teacher tests positive, they have to isolate for 10 days.