HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The Pa. Departments of Education, Health and Transportation held a press conference Thursday to address the ongoing bus driver shortage and updated the public on the anticipated rollout of the vaccine for kids aged 5-11 and COVID testing in schools.
“Across Pennsylvania, students are excited to be back in the classroom, learning and growing and playing alongside their classmates,” Education Secretary Dr. Noe Ortega said. “Our schools and students are resilient, and under the extraordinary circumstances created by the pandemic, this has been a good start to the school year. I thank the students, parents and communities for working together and finding creative solutions so students can remain in the classroom, where it’s vital for them to be.”
PennDOT says it’s working to recruit around 375,000 CDL licensed drivers about their need for bus drivers and how to get the right endorsements for a school bus license. For school districts, they can use federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds to reimburse parents/guardians who are driving their students to and from school and are affected by the shortage.
PennDOT plans to expand days of operation to offer skills testing for CDL licenses throughout the state for a few weeks.
“PennDOT is committed to ensuring safe transportation for students,” Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Kurt Myers said. “We urge CDL licensees who are seeking work or supplemental employment to obtain a school bus endorsement – taking advantage of the additional hours for CDL testing – to help transport students safely.”
The Pa. Dept. of Health addressed the latest data submission from Pfizer to get their COVID-19 vaccine approved for administering in kids aged 5-11 years old. While it’s still under review for approval, school districts are being asked to provide vaccines in on-site clinics.
“It’s very encouraging that more than half a million school-aged kids are already vaccinated,” Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said. “We know that vaccinations are one of the best ways to prevent illness due to COVID-19 and help keep students learning in-person. That’s why we encourage everyone eligible to get vaccinated and we encourage schools to help make it as convenient as possible. It’s not too early to schedule a vaccine clinic in November in anticipation of federal approval for kids between 5 and 11.”
The Pfizer vaccine is currently approved for anyone over 12 years old. Beam says 21.9% of children aged 12-14 are fully vaccinated and 42.6% of children aged 15-19 are fully vaccinated.
As for COVID-19 testing, there are 396 Pa. districts using the 100% federally-funded COVID-19 testing program the administration started for the school year to keep students safe. All schools are welcome to utilize the program and can opt-in at any time.
Schools are also mandated to have students and teachers wear masks as well as social distance and keep up hygiene to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“In the past week, more than 800 tests have been conducted in schools across the state through this free initiative,” Beam said. “The combination of ongoing testing, masking and vaccinations will help keep students learning in the classroom.”