The Virgin Islands Department of Health is announcing the launch of the ‘Influenza-like Illness’ pilot program at schools across the territory in an effort to track and quickly treat viral illnesses and prevent outbreaks that are disruptive to student learning.is announcing the launch of the ‘Influenza-like Illness’ pilot program at schools across the territory in an effort to track and quickly treat viral illnesses and prevent outbreaks that are disruptive to student learning.
The department’s Epidemiology Division introduced the pilot program in six schools across the territory: Claude O. Markoe School and Good Hope-Country Day School on St. Croix, V.I. Montessori School and Lockhart Elementary School on St. Thomas, and Gifft Hill School and Julius E. Sprauve School on St. John.
“During the COVID pandemic, we worked closely with the Department of Education and private and parochial school administrators to ensure the continuity of learning for our students,” said Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion. “The Influenza-like Illness pilot program will reinforce public health’s goal of overall prevention. We saw entire campuses shut down to stop the spread of the virus, and we recognized the need to implement measures to address outbreaks and prevention on school campuses.”
As part of the pilot program, the Department of Health is offering free school-based Flu A, Flu B, RSV, and COVID-19 testing, with parent permission, for students with symptoms of respiratory illness. Families that participate will receive a link to their students’ test results directly to their mobile phone or e-mail address. Results from testing will be available within 24 to 48 hours in most cases.
“The Epidemiology Division worked [with] the V.I. Department of Education to develop this special testing program utilizing COVID-19 funding,” said Dr. Esther Ellis, territorial epidemiologist for the Department of Health. “The use of one-swab laboratory testing can detect the COVID-19, Flu A, Flu B, and RSV respiratory viruses in a multiplex test.”
In addition to the free respiratory illness testing, the V.I. Department of Health is working with schools to gather information about respiratory, gastrointestinal and other illnesses using school absenteeism data. This data will be used to customize prevention strategies and deploy treatment resources to schools with outbreaks.
The department is also developing a respiratory illness dashboard with data from this pilot for use by school administrators, parents and the greater USVI community to inform decision-making around activities and prevention strategies.
The Department of Health has also distributed more than 17,000 COVID-19 home test kits to schools across the territory for at-home use for students, teachers, staff or anyone in their household as needed. The second round of distribution is underway.