Gov. announces expanded COVID testing for teachers & telehealth services

As teachers and students across the state continue to return to the classroom, Governor Tate Reeves has announced measures to expand COVID-19 testing for educators and telehealth services at Mississippi schools.

As it relates to testing, the governor announced that all Mississippi teachers, even those without symptoms, will be able to get tested for free. It was explained that there will be three options for teachers to get tested including at MSDH’s Jackson site at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, community sites across the state (two sites per day), or through one of the 16 regional testing teams that will soon offer drive-up testing.

A change to the Mississippi Division of Medicaid’s telehealth policy will enable schools without school nurses or school-based clinics to access telehealth services. The expansion will benefit over half of Mississippi’s school districts, according to Executive Director Drew Snyder.

“The schools are going to have their own COVID policies, but the chronic care needs of children have not stopped during the pandemic. I think with the telehealth policy, with mental health services in particular, it is going to have a big benefit on allowing students who have those chronic needs to stay in the classroom, and it doesn’t put that additional burden on the parent,” Snyder said.

He also explained that this will help minimize potential exposure for healthcare workers.

COVID-19 cases within Mississippi schools continue to grow as State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs explained that schools in 71 of the state’s 82 counties are reporting cases with a total of 444 positives — 245 teachers & 199 students. Additionally, 589 teachers & 2,035 students are currently being quarantined.

Dr. Dobbs did note that many students and teachers did not catch the virus at school and likely picked it up in the community.

Earlier today, the MSDH reported just 276 new cases of COVID-19 — the state’s lowest report since July 5th.

“This is a remarkable opportunity, that if we make the right decisions & really focus on limiting transmission at this moment, we can have an entirely different trajectory than we might otherwise,” Dr. Dobbs said.

He encouraged the continued use of masks and social distancing efforts, referencing the reopening of schools, especially colleges, as a threat to the state’s progress if the proper protocols aren’t followed.

During today’s briefing, Governor Reeves also signed HB 1806 — the bill reimplementing the ‘School Recognition Program.’ The program, which was initially left out of the education budget bill vetoed by the governor, rewards teachers in A & B-rated districts & those in schools that improved by a letter grade from the previous year.

Lawmakers passed the bill, which will benefit over 23,000 teachers, during their 2-day return to the capitol last week.

Watch today’s full press briefing below: