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Teachers Health Trust unveils COVID-19 testing proposal

Updated July 9, 2020 - 9:25 am

The self-administered health plan for Clark County School District teachers says it has a proposal — but not funding — to provide COVID-19 testing for school employees before school starts in August.

The Teachers Health Trust formed a task force in March. Its approximately 18 members include health officials, school district and teachers union representatives.

Task Force Initiative for Educator’s Safety & Screening developed a four-step program for testing and risk management for school district’s roughly 40,000 employees for the upcoming school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In order to reopen schools, a solid screening, testing, tracing and treatment program must be in place to mitigate risk for teachers and staff,” according to a June 12 draft plan released by the Teachers Health Trust.

The task force’s proposal calls for providing COVID-19 nasal swab testing two weeks before school starts.

CCSD didn’t respond to a Review-Journal request for comment.

University Medical Center has had conversations with the Teachers Health Trust but hasn’t formalized any plans yet, hospital spokeswoman Danita Cohen said in a Tuesday email to the Review-Journal. “We are there to help them and any other groups who need testing,” she said.

There appears to be near-universal support for the task force’s program, but funding is needed, said Michael Skolnik, CEO of the Teachers Health Trust. It will cost close to $8 million over five months to carry out all four steps of the program, he said.

Skolnik said he’s working with the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services — which has vetted the plan — on how to get public funds.

Shannon Litz, spokeswoman for the agency, said in an email to the Review-Journal: “The Department of Health and Human Services has reviewed this plan and budget proposal for Clark County. We appreciate their work and have requested they provide a statewide option for review and consideration.”

A special legislative session began Wednesday in Carson City, as the state is facing an estimated $1.2 billion budget shortfall.

Skolnik said the Teachers Health Trust has formed a foundation to raise money, if needed, but prefers to stay away from private funding.

Teachers union backing

CCSD’s board of trustees is slated to vote Thursday night on a school reopening plan. The Clark County Education Association — a teacher’s union — released a statement Tuesday saying it couldn’t sign off on CCSD’s current reopening plan unless Gov. Steve Sisolak provides additional resources.

That includes seeking $14 million in federal CARES Act money to pay for a “robust and effective safety program,” including COVID-19 testing for 40,000 employees, according to the statement.

In an email to the Review-Journal, Clark County Education Association Executive Director John Vellardita said the union supports the task force’s plan and was part of the effort to create it.

“From the word go, we did not want schools to reopen without a testing plan,” he said. “And we were not seeing any initiative from the state to address that.”

Vellardita said the union knows there are “federal dollars to implement this.”

Under the program, the first step would be to reach out to teachers, which was to have occurred in June and July.

Next would be re-entry preparation, which would happen two weeks before school starts. That would include nasal swab tests for CCSD employees to detect the presence of an active infection.

It would also include conducting school walk-throughs to ensure appropriate precautions and providing each teacher with a COVID-19 safety kit including personal protective equipment, sanitation supplies and thermometer.

The third step — school launch — would happen during the school year and include creating a process to monitor and respond to COVID-19 cases and outbreaks, and proactively monitor teachers at high risk.

The fourth step, which would happen as needed, would include quickly isolating teachers who test positive and providing them with support, such as per diem, food and medicine delivery services, telehealth appointments and additional testing.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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