MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP/WFFF) — The state of Vermont has made 87,000 free rapid antigen kits available for students and is encouraging parents to test their children this week. The state plans to distribute the free at-home test kits to parents and guardians so children can be COVID tested before heading back to school after the holidays.

On Wednesday, Gov. Phil Scott detailed the program, which he first announced on Tuesday. “I encourage families to take advantage of these rapid tests,” Scott said in a statement. “Testing your child before school starts gives you peace of mind and will slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. It also will help protect the most vulnerable and keep schools open, so kids can get the education they need and deserve.”

Parents can begin registering for the program immediately on the Vermont Health Department website and pick up the tests on Thursday and Friday, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at 51 Agency of Transportation locations across the state. Parents or caregivers must register with the student’s name and school. One kit, which includes two swabs, will be distributed per child.

Those who have children in kindergarten through grade 12 can get one two-pack kit per child on either Thursday or Friday. Families select a pick-up time when registering. Student info is required at pick-up, but they do not need to be present.

Officials hope parents will test their children before sending them back to school next week, but the tests are not required. Education Secretary Dan French said sending the tests home is part of a broader testing strategy to expand access to antigen tests across the state. Under the program, schools will provide the tests to the families for their children.

Schools will continue to perform the more accurate tests, but they will be switching from PCR tests to LAMP tests, which provide faster results. The new testing strategy comes as Vermont braces for a spike in cases caused by the arrival of the more transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus. Cases in Vermont had remained relatively low, but on Wednesday, the state reported 940 cases, 200 more than the previous one-day record, set on December 10.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine also encourages families to get their eligible children vaccinated. “The virus is highly contagious, and will spread easily, especially in closed, indoor settings such as schools. This is especially true of the new Omicron variant,” said Dr. Levine. “I am again asking every parent and caregiver in Vermont to please, get your children vaccinated. There is vaccine available for kids ages five and older that will give them the protection they need to stay safe and healthy and help protect the people they are with – especially those who are at high risk of serious outcomes if they get the virus.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.